Imagine being born in a country and then being told you have no rights as a citizen; that you're not wanted there. That is exactly what has been happening, for quite some time now, to Dominicans of Haitian descent.
The recent June 17 deadline for an estimated half a million people of Haitian origin born in the Dominican Republic to either register with authorities or face deportation has now passed. For many onlookers, the core issue has progressed from simply being one of denationalisation to one of dehumanisation. The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ has been used to describe the filtering taking place, as the government targets dark-skinned, Haitian-looking Dominicans for expulsion.
A court ruling two years ago effectively denied Dominican citizenship to children of Haitian migrants retroactively to 1929, leaving them all stateless. At the time, even while the country tried to assert its autonomy with regard to what it considered an immigration matter, high-profile authors like Dominican Junot Díaz and Haitian Edwidge Danticat said in a letter published in the New York Times that the ruling was “an instantly created underclass set up for abuse.”
The outcry on social media throughout the region was swift, if limited. A member of the Trinidadian diaspora, Allan Tam, called the situation “a tragedy in the making”.
On Facebook, Rhoda Bharath noted:
To reinforce what a friend is saying…
This week, we have ethnic cleaning taking place in Dominica.
In the Caribbean.
In our time.
Caricom is mute.
While this perception of the Caribbean Community remaining silent on the issue was pervasive, freelance journalist Wesley Gibbings brought it to people's attention that CARICOM has indeed spoken out about the situation, issuing its first statement in November 2013 and following up with another release in March 2015. The most recent statement was clear and harsh, saying that CARICOM “noted with grave concern a number of recent developments affecting grievously Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic”:
The process of regularisation of Dominicans of Haitian descent arbitrarily deprived of their nationality by the Dominican Republic Constitutional Court ruling on nationality of September 2013 expired on 1 February 2015. Government officials indicated that it would not be extended despite the fact that only a very small number (6937) of the persons affected were able to apply in time, leaving a large number estimated to be over 100,000 vulnerable to expulsion.
This distressing development needs to be placed in the context of the judgement of 22 October 2014 of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which called for the nullifying of all the dispositions resulting from the ruling on nationality and for the reversal of the ruling itself. The Community reiterates its condemnation of the Dominican Republic Government's repudiation of international law.
The Caribbean Community also condemns the resurgence of anti-Haitian sentiment in the Dominican Republic. This has led to the unnatural death of a Haitian migrant on 11 February 2015, the desecration of the Haitian flag and the expulsion of an increasing number of Haitians without verification of their immigration status. In view of these troubling developments, the Caribbean Community maintains its posture of ‘no business as usual’ with the Dominican Republic.
This was a visible departure from CARICOM's initial statement, in which it said it was “prepared to engage the Dominican Republic but the government of the Dominican Republic must show good faith by immediate credible steps as part of an overall plan to resolve the nationality and attendant issues in the shortest possible time.”
Region-wide and throughout the diaspora, netizens have echoed this sentiment and done what they could to raise awareness of what they saw as a tremendous injustice to their Caribbean brothers. Many signed and shared a petition on Avaaz.org that called on Caribbean governments to “Stop [the] Dominican Republic[‘s] Apartheid against Dominicans of Haitian heritage”, calling the situation “an affront to regionalism”.
Against the backdrop of the intended deportations, the kiskeácity blog reposted audio of a panel discussion it had held in late 2014 about the Dominican Republic's citizenship ruling. Further south along the Caribbean archipelago, Groundation Grenada was outraged, with writers Angelique V. Nixon and Alissa Trotz calling the reality that people of Haitian descent have been faced with in the Dominican Republic — and even in the Bahamas — a human rights issue:
It seems we are at a breaking point with state treatment of Haitian migrants and persons of Haitian descent, particularly in the Dominican Republic and The Bahamas. Beyond the issue of people being rendered stateless, there are disturbing reports about abusive treatment and human rights violations in The Bahamas’ detention center, mass deportations from the Dominican Republic, and the separation of families in both places. Haitian migrants and their children remain some of the most vulnerable people, and this continues to be more evident in the recent changes to immigration enforcement policies in The Bahamas and Dominican Republic. These grave conditions for Haitian migrants and people of Haitian ancestry across the Caribbean bring starkly into focus the tenuous meaning of rights and who gets to access protection. Further, pervasive xenophobic attitudes towards certain migrants, and specifically anti-Haitian sentiment, remain an underlying yet clearly serious concern facing us as a region.
The post went on to specify several cases of violence and abuse against Haitians in both territories, and criticised the Dominican Republic's regularisation plan, which gave an unrealistic time frame in which undocumented migrants could request citizenship.
Quoting Haitian-Canadian writer Myriam Chancy, the post added that what Caribbean citizens need to be concerned about is the “civic death” being imposed upon its Haitian brothers and sisters. Trinidad and Tobago's Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran said that some kind of diplomatic initiative will be taken when regional leaders meet on July 2 and 3 at the Heads of Government conference. Still, Groundation Grenada was of the opinion that “the region is far from finding more ethical ways to deal with migration and citizenship rights”:
With recovery efforts still underway in post earthquake Haiti, this assault on migrants and persons of Haitian ancestry urgently underscores just how much work there is left to do across our Caribbean. It is time to call out anti-Haitian sentiments and xenophobia that underpin much of the migration and citizenship issues in the region. It is time to forge and create responses that are regional in focus and promote solidarity and solutions grounded in social justice. It is time to find better ways of dealing with migration, citizenship, regional movement, and labor. And it is time to develop stronger and intersectional approaches to these issues that take into account class, gender and other differences and inequality.
Recent reports suggest that Andrés Navarro García, the Dominican Republic’s foreign minister, has extended the deadline date for deportations in an effort to help make the process more “credible”. The future of Dominicans of Haitian descent — many of whom have never been to Haiti and do not speak the language — still hangs very much in the balance.