A crisis is rarely made in a day, and there is no exception with the threat of mass deportations of Haitian migrant workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent from the Dominican Republic (D.R.) to Haiti.
The D.R. and Haiti have a centuries-long history of simmering tension that has at times boiled over. Almost two years ago, the D.R. Constitutional Court retroactively stripped citizenship from hundreds of thousands of Dominicans with Haitian ancestry. While some of the affected may have parents who migrated recently from Haiti, many have lived in the D.R. for decades and have few ties to Haiti.
In addition to Dominicans of Haitian descent, an estimated 524,000 foreign-born migrant workers, most of whom are Haitian, live and work in the D.R. The Dominican government proposed a “regularization plan” which allowed certain migrant workers to register for a reprieve under new immigration policies, but tens of thousands experienced difficulty in assembling the necessary documents and clearing bureaucratic hurdles.
Human rights groups hoped the government would change its course, ease restrictions, and extend registration deadlines. But the government has not relented and hundreds of thousands face an uncertain future, at risk of deportation. Now many people live in fear of being expelled from the only home they have ever known.
Meanwhile, the Dominican government is working hard to deflect criticism, spreading a false narrative that the central issue is its right to police illegal immigration. This does not change the underlying facts that the D.R. has long encouraged and benefited from low-wage Haitian laborers and their migration. More significantly, the government has illegally rendered more than 200,000 people born on Dominican soil stateless.
With the threat of expulsions looming, many have chosen to leave the D.R. before they are forced out. Observers are concerned about a growing humanitarian crisis as many have settled in camps near drought-stricken communities at the shared border. These communities have no housing and little food, water or arable land to offer the newcomers, and the Haitian government is ill-equipped to provide relief.
Unfortunately, this is not Haiti’s only housing and shelter crisis. Over five years have passed since the 2010 earthquake struck Port-au-Prince. Forty-five underserved tent encampments representing at least 60,000 people still exist and are at risk of abrupt closure. The Haitian government already estimated a housing shortage of 500,000 units by 2020, and progress to fill this gap has been slow. An influx of returnees and deportees will only add to the strain on Haiti’s housing and sanitary infrastructure.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Haiti has long advocated for the rights of people living in tent camps, and urges the Government of Haiti to do more to protect the human rights of displaced people, whether in Port-au-Prince or at the border. At the same time, MCC urges Dominican authorities to recognize the severe human toll its laws are taking, and to find a more humane and just way to implement its immigration and naturalization policies. As we are called to remember to show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2), we advocate for protecting vulnerable people on their journey to find safe and secure homes.
Charissa Zehr is Legislative Associate for International Affairs at the MCC U.S. Washington office. Originally published on August 14, 2015. Reprinted with permission from Third Way Cafe.