(MCC Photo/Ted Oswald)

Andre Joseph, his wife Roseline Joseph, and their 15-year-old son, Sonel Joseph, were recently gathered up in the middle of the night and forced to leave their home in the Dominican Republic. Andre, now 53, spent 43 years working in the agricultural sector in the Dominican.

AKRON, Pa. – As thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent face deportation from the Dominican Republic, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is offering humanitarian assistance and calling on people to pray and advocate on the behalf of those affected.

In 2013, Dominican courts violated international law, according to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, by stripping citizenship from 210,000 individuals, born in the Dominican Republic, many of whom have Haitian lineage. These Dominicans’ parents and grandparents had moved from Haiti to the neighboring country over the past decades to seek better economic opportunities and establish their families and livelihoods there.

More than 66,000 of these stateless individuals and migrant workers have been deported or have fled to Haiti since April. Those who left of their own accord did so to avoid forcible removal and to escape increasingly anti-Haitian sentiment from their neighbors.

Haitian migrant workers, who help fuel the agriculture and construction industries in the Dominican Republic, are among those being deported or leaving. About half of the 524,000 foreign-born migrant workers (mostly Haitian) who had been living in the Dominican Republic could not get the necessary documentation the Dominican government required to secure legal residency by the June deadline.

Employers who don’t want to admit to hiring undocumented migrant workers and Haitian and Dominican government bureaucracy are some of the hurdles standing in the way of getting documentation, said Katharine Oswald, MCC policy analyst and advocacy coordinator in Haiti. However, having the right paperwork isn’t necessarily a protection against deportation either.

“While Dominican authorities claim to be handling deportations in a humane manner that abides by international standards, many individuals with proper papers and citizenship rights have been deported,” Oswald said.

Haiti, still recovering from the 2010 earthquake, does not have the capacity to welcome and accommodate such a large influx of people. Many of the deportees and those who fled have never set foot in Haiti before and find themselves settling in tent camps.

“These precarious communities, many in places that are experiencing severe drought, are highly susceptible to food insecurity and the spread of diseases such as cholera,” said Oswald. “The Dominican Republic’s actions are instigating a humanitarian crisis.”

In response to this situation, MCC is distributing canned meat, comforters and relief kits.

MCC Haiti partner National Human Rights Defense Network is working with MCC on the northern border to provide vulnerable families with cash grants to help them reunite with extended family in the northeast of Haiti.

Zanmi Timoun, another MCC partner, is helping with the distribution of aid along two southern border crossings. Additionally, MCC is working with other organizations to create informational publications that help individuals at risk of deportation to know their rights.

Oswald points out that along with humanitarian assistance, “The voices of North Americans are needed to ask their governments to pressure the Haitian and Dominican governments to resolve the issue.”

The MCC U.S. Washington Office is gathering signatures for a petition that will be sent to Secretary of State John Kerry, asking for the U.S. government to support stronger social and diplomatic relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The petition, bit.ly/JusticeHaitiDR, also calls for Kerry to pressure the Dominican government to restore the rights of its stateless people.

MCC advocacy staff also created a prayer guide for use by churches, small groups and individuals to pray for those affected by the growing humanitarian crisis in Haiti. See mcc.org/media/resources/3141.

If the controversial immigration policies are not handled diplomatically, the humanitarian crisis and tense relations between the Dominican Republic and Haiti may only escalate, Oswald warns. She hopes that, through the prayer guide, congregations will be encouraged to stand with their brothers and sisters in Haiti and the Dominican Republic who are facing scarcity and injustice.