© 2024 Innovation Trail

Tensions Rise At Border As Dominican Republic Begins Deporting Haitians


The Dominican Republic has started formal deportations of Haitians living illegally in its country. The people being expelled failed to comply with a new immigration policy that requires them to prove their citizenship. Peter Granitz reports from the Haitian side of the border that tensions are running dangerously high.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: Twenty-seven Haitians slowly step off the yellow school bus rigged with metal bars over the windows. They walk under the watch of dozens of Haitian and Dominican soldiers, police and officials towards the border of the two countries of Hispaniola. Once they passed through the large, bent, rusted iron gate marking the border, officials with Haiti's immigration service verify the names of the returnees.

Twenty-seven people, all men, mostly young, are now back in the country of their birth. Some have lived in the DR for decades, others, for just a few months. They're driven to an immigration office where Haitian officials process their names and returns. Then aid workers for the Jesuit Refugee Service take detailed accounts of who they are to try to find out where they're from and if they still had family in Haiti.

Eighteen-year-old Anthony Junior (ph) is back in Haiti, a country he left just six months ago to look for construction work in the DR in hopes of making more money than he could at home. He's nervous and shy. He says thieves in the DR stole most everything he owned, and then he was picked up by immigration authorities on the street.

ANTHONY JUNIOR: (Foreign language spoken).

GRANITZ: Junior tells an aid worker he was born in Haiti in a small town near the city of Hinche, and they're having a hard time figuring out exactly where it is. Thus far, the Dominican Republic has deported just a few hundred people. It's promised it will not begin massive deportations. There have been no reported cases of abusive deportees. The actual transfers seemed to be orderly, but the International Organization for Migration warns the Dominican government has created the systems and infrastructure that could continue the deportations at this rate for months, possibly a year.

Thousands could ultimately end up in desperately poor Haiti, and that creates a lot of uncertainty and tension at the border. Groups of young Haitians threw rocks and bottles across the border recently, and Dominican soldiers fired back. Nobody was hurt. The escalation in violence shut the border down for hours, bringing trade to a halt and putting merchants out of work for the day.

SUNNY PATION: (Through interpreter) Without all this craziness, we can pass normally.

GRANITZ: Normally, Sunny Pation (ph) buys oil and soft drinks where they're cheaper in the Dominican Republic then sells them in Haiti at a markup just like hundreds of others. Gilbert Artius (ph) lives near the border and says confrontations between Haitian police and the Dominican military are becoming more regular.

GILBERT ARTIUS: (Through interpreter) Dominicans don't respect the rights of Haitians. They shoot. They throw rocks. We're not going to let them do this again.

GRANITZ: And while the chaos at the border is taking its toll on people's lives, there's no sign of any progress between the two governments. There's no protocol on how to handle the migrants, and the Haitians say they have no idea how many people will be deported. For NPR News, I'm Peter Granitz in Malpasse, Haiti. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Granitz