Human Misery and the Stateless
We witnessed an official deportation of those taken off the streets based only on skin shade and facial features
The ongoing discord between Haiti and the Dominican Republic has created a tragic border crisis that is easily overlooked while the world's eyes are focused on crises at borders elsewhere. The border crossing between Pedernales, Dominican Republic, and Anse-a-Pitres, Haiti, is barren, steamy and dust blown. Recently, under the scrutinizing eyes of the armed DR military, a Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights delegation crossed the foot bridge at that border crossing into Haiti on our way to a camp for the displaced at Parc Cadeau.
I was part of that Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights delegation that set out to document human rights violations in the DR and to bear witness to the deplorable conditions in the camps on the Haitian side of the DR/Haitian border. Camps almost exclusively populated by people of Haitian descent who had been living in the DR. They now find themselves in a country they do not know and that doesn't want them; exiled from a country they once called home. They are “stateless.”
Parc Cadeau, our first stop, is comprised of two camps, with over 2000 displaced people. For a few, Haiti was their birthplace. Most know it as the birthplace of one or more parent or grandparent. All know it as a place that fills them with fear. A place of endless huts made of rags and cardboard. These camps lack adequate food, water, sanitation and medical care. A cholera infested river serves as the border.
As we prepared to leave the camp to travel to a second camp, we encountered Mercedes. Mercedes was in labor. In this wretched camp another women died during child birth only one week earlier. Now, as we left the camp and followed a local priest with Mercedes in his car, the hospital became our next destination.
There is a long history of strife between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The current troubles stem from attempts in the DR to limit citizenship and the rights it confers. Terms like “birthright,” "foreigners in transit" and “residing illegally” are now tools for discrimination and deportation. The Naturalization Law, adopted to provide a “solution” to the chaos, has only created uncertainty, fear, human rights violations and deportations both official and unofficial.
When we arrived at Jimani, to cross the border to visit another deplorable camp, this one in Malpasse, we were able to witness an official deportation. There are many more "unofficial" deportation locations where military and non-military vehicles unload those taken off the streets based only on skin shade or facial features.
A yellow school bus arrived on the DR side of the border at Jimani. Inside, in a metal cage, were roughly twenty men, including two unaccompanied minors—minors the DR claims they never deport. They were taken off the streets of the Dominican Republic where they lived for many years. Most left home on their way to work, often with official papers, only to be stopped and told their papers were false. After spending the night at a detention center, they were about to be left in a country they did not know. Left to find their way to camps like Parc Cadeau, with nothing but what was on their backs or in their hands.
In Santo Domingo official excuses were easy to find and rationalizations flowed freely. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights recognizes President Medina’s efforts to address the crisis, but much more can and must be done. These deplorable camps are the consequence of decisions made by the Dominican government, a government that can immediately stop deportations: official and unofficial.
We hear too often that "politically" to do more might destabilize the situation, but the will to do more must be found. Robert Kennedy said it best, "moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence." Those living in these dreadful camps, or living in fear of deportation, need others with influence to find that moral courage.
Cholera now spreads through the camps near Anse-a-Pitres and the death toll is rising. Mercedes, the woman in labor we took to the hospital, gave birth to a beautiful little boy—only to have to return to the dreadful camp at Parc Cadeau.