Dominican Republic continues forced expulsion of citizens of Haitian descent

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (NI) – The government of the Dominican Republic is continuing its campaign of ethnic cleansing against Dominicans of Haitian descent, with potentially 200,000 people at risk of deportation to the border following the looming threat of enforced expulsion. This news should come as no shock given the 2013 Constitutional Court ruling that those born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents, but lacking the official documentation to prove this, are to be stripped of citizenship. Now, these very same Dominicans who are stateless in theory are facing statelessness in reality in the form of displacement from the only home that they have ever known.

Friends in the Dominican Republic.  Image Source: KR1212, Flickr, Creative Commons

Friends in the Dominican Republic.
Image Source: KR1212, Flickr, Creative Commons

The early 20th century saw tens of thousands of migrant workers from Haiti sent to work in the Dominican Republic’s sugar cane fields; many of those who remained are now at risk of deportation. Additionally, there are more recent migrants who have moved to the Dominican Republic in the hope of an improved quality of life, many escaping violence or searching for work-related opportunities. When one considers the fact that Haiti is known as the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, crossing borders into the more flourishing Dominican Republic should come as no surprise.

However, it is important that the immigrant law be reported on accurately, acknowledging that many of those facing deportation are not migrants at all. Placing the story of the current persecution of these victims solely within the narrative of the larger migrant crisis of our generation fails to paint a full picture of the story at hand. While by definition one may consider any person who lacks citizenship to be a migrant, Dominicans of Haitian descent should in essence be in full possession of the rights that come with being Dominican by birth. What we are witnessing here is the desired expulsion of people from a state in which they were born and raised; it is not a question of being sent ‘back’ so much as it is one of exile, with many of these citizens never having previously stepped foot in Haiti.

The plight of the Haitian Dominicans must be placed within the context of the crucial turning point in Dominican-Haitian relations represented by the 1937 Parsley Massacre – of which racial discrimination was the driving factor. Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo was responsible for ordering the execution of Haitians, which resulted in up to 30,000 deaths. The genocide can in some ways be compared with the Holocaust: both involved the denationalization of their victims and targeted people whose appearance suggested they might belong to the ‘undesirable’ community. Today, those who are considered dark enough to be Haitian are at risk of deportation, suggesting that the sentiment behind the 1937 massacre is not just an isolated part of the Dominican Republic’s murky past. Rather, this legacy of oppression is rooted firmly in the present.

Proof of arrival in the Dominican Republic before 2011 means potential eligibility for residency. But many are unable to produce documents of this kind; the procedure of applying for residency is costly as well as reliant upon papers from previous employers that many do not have access to. Essentially, the goal of the Dominican Republic government is clear: to expel as many residents of Haitian descent as possible, in an attempt to ensure ‘ethnic ideals’ are upheld.

While current President Danilo Medina claimed last week that no immediate deportations are to take place, this does not take away from the severity of the threat posed by the new law. Initial rounding up of communities has already begun, with those believed to be of Haitian descent being loaded into trucks. This poses a clear violation of human rights and, worryingly, has gone uncovered by mainstream media. The process of verification of citizenship under the Regularization plan is expected to take 45 days. For the migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent involved, this time will no doubt be characterized primarily by hopelessness, as well as fear of the persecution at the hands of their government and the political violence they may face if deported to Haiti.

Written by Neda Tehrani for The New Internationalist.