Dr. Alexandre Widner, Partners In Health’s border health activities coordinator in Haiti, has worked along the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic since 2008. In the essay below, he comments on the current political and medical crisis unfolding in that region, and on how PIH is responding to the situation.
The border that divides Haiti and the Dominican Republic is about 340 kilometers (about 210 miles). After graduating as a doctor in 2008, I had the opportunity to collaborate for several years in improving the health of my Haitian compatriots while working in rural health centers, on empowerment activities for women, and in food security along the border. About three years ago, I began working with Zanmi Lasante, as Partners In Health is known in Haiti. PIH was co-founded by Dr. Paul Farmer in Haiti approximately three decades ago to offer high-quality health care and to fight for social justice, with a preferential option for the poor. Today PIH exists in many countries around the world, including Peru, Mexico, the United States, Malawi, Lesotho, Rwanda, and Russia.
Despite many signs of brotherhood between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, the binational relationship is worsening each day due to a high peak of migratory tension. According to various sources, more than 500,000 Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, more than 75 percent of whom lack identifying documents (a passport or identity card), which leads to constant marginalization, stigmatization, and discrimination—including torture by some authorities along the border. To make matters worse, on September 23, 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Tribunal published Law TC 168-13 with a retroactive clause that eliminates the citizenship of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent who have lived in the country since 1929.
It’s estimated that more than 65,000 people were deported or forced to leave the country.
Facing this human rights violation, Haiti received support from several countries and organizations in the region and from within the island itself. Meanwhile, President Danilo Medina and his administration in the Dominican Republic enacted a Plan for Standardization of Foreigners that was fueled by profound anti-Haitian sentiment. Following this action, there was a transition period where thousands of migrants were forced to return to their country of origin out of fear and the perceived threat of torture, loss, arson, and theft at the hands of Dominicans.
The government of Haitian President Michel Martelly proved its inability or lack of interest in responding to this situation that threatens global peace, despite the massive deportation its sister nation is contemplating. Through its Haitian Identification Program, the government began delivering identity documents to Haitian migrants who are in the Dominican Republic, even though it can’t deliver the same to its citizens who reside in the country.
Since the second half of last year, Haiti has been focused on completing three rounds of elections to replace an entire class of politicians. These elections have been delayed by more than four years in a country where corruption, violence, and social injustice are increasing.
Despite the fact that mass deportation would expand the humanitarian crisis in Haiti on top of the impact of the major 2010 earthquake, the Dominican migration office started in August the expulsion of thousands of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent (who are now stateless) out of profound xenophobia. Since then it’s estimated that more than 65,000 people were deported or forced to leave the country, causing an alarming situation at several unofficial and official border points, including Ouanaminthe, Belladère, Malpasse, and Anse a Pitres. In Anse a Pitres, the repatriated and stateless live in open-air camps at high risk of extreme poverty, child malnutrition, juvenile delinquency, and an increase in death due to cholera, malnutrition, and malaria—among other diseases.
There’s a significant increase in the number of Haitian families who come for consultations.
In September, Zanmi Lasante signed an agreement with Action and Solidarity Against Poverty, a charismatic organization based in Cap Haitien that supplies us with food, clothing, shoes, and laundry detergent—among other things—to support the repatriated. We’ve established alliances with organizations that are involved directly in migration issues, such as Support Group for Refugees and the Repatriated and the National Office of Immigration, to deliver these goods.
Right now there’s a significant increase in the number of Haitian families who come for consultations. There was a more than 100 percent increase in September at health centers run by the Ministry of Public Health, which are PIH-supported, including Belladère Hospital, Baptiste, and Roy Sec. These clinics are located along the border with the Dominican Republic, where crossing without documents today represents an imminent risk to immigrants’ lives.
Clinicians are providing care to patients primarily for infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, and cholera and for children under 5 suffering from moderate or severe malnutrition. The number of hospital births has increased considerably thanks to a dynamic collaboration between Zanmi Lasante and the Ministry of Health in these remote communities.
Mixed families (Dominican-Haitian) have been immediate victims of the deteriorating binational relationship. Thousands of fathers and mothers are forced to make harmful decisions (be it divorce, forced deportation of a family member, or repatriation), which result in an increase in the number of orphaned children, a break in the family bond, and the loss of social security for those who worked in Dominican cane fields for many years.
Zanmi Lasante’s psychosocial team is supporting many women (who are victims of the inevitable separation from their Dominican spouses) through the purchase of school materials for children born in the Dominican Republic and through small loans they use to start businesses in the Central Plateau’s border zone near Belladère.
What is the future of Santo Domingo and Port-au-Prince? Are Presidents Medina and Martelly whistling in the wind about peace on the island of Hispaniola?
While we recognize the right of the Dominican Republic as a sovereign nation to pass laws or create fair and inclusive immigration policies within its territory, we demand justice for the flagrant violation of human rights executed by a brother country towards thousands of stateless Dominican brothers and sisters. Together we shout: “No to violence, no to racism!”
Long live solidarity between the people!