Hundreds of children have been deported from the Dominican Republic without their parents, according to UNICEF, amid a massive government campaign to deport suspected undocumented migrants from the country.
The United Nations Children’s Agency has received at least 1,800 unaccompanied children handed over by Dominican immigration authorities to Haiti since the start of the year, a spokesperson told CNN on Monday.
Many arrive without identity papers and are “shipped” into the country among the adult deportees, the spokesperson also said – raising the question of how Dominican authorities verified that they belonged to Haiti.
Back in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, migrant detention centers sometimes hold childless parents.
“A woman had a changing bag with her, but not the baby. [Immigration agents] told her she couldn’t carry her baby with her and that they would bring her on the bus – but they didn’t bring the baby on the bus,” said Yoana Kuzmova, a researcher at the Think Tank on Dominican migration policy. for migratory observation and social development in the Caribbean.
The Dominican Republic has long sought to reduce the Haitian population within its borders. But this year’s latest wave of deportations is unfolding with astonishing speed and scale, prompting critics to accuse the Caribbean nation’s government of racial profiling, chaotic executions and disregard for human rights and families as immigration officials drive people out of the country.
The U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic has warned black people and “darker-skinned Americans” that they risk “increased interaction” with Dominican authorities amid the immigration crackdown. In a statement on Saturday, the embassy described “reports of unequal treatment” of US citizens based on skin color.
But Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader has rejected calls to halt the deportations, arguing that the Dominican Republic already supports neighboring Haiti more than any other country in the world.
CNN has reached out to the Dominican Republic’s migration institute for comment.
In October alone, 14,801 people were sent to Haiti from the Dominican Republic, according to records of the Haitian aid organization Groupe d’Appui des Repatriés et Réfugiés – an average of 477 people per day.
Videos on social media appearing to show Dominican immigration authorities carrying out raids have caused panic among Haitians and people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, with even some legal residents telling CNN they are scared. to leave their home.
On Sunday, the Haitian Ministry of Communications called on its neighbor to respect “human dignity”, citing the “stunning images…which have drawn attention to the inhuman and degrading treatment inflicted on Haitian citizens in the Dominican Republic”.
The immigration net swept away some people regardless of nationality or legal status, according to former detainees and experts interviewed by CNN, as well as the US Embassy statement.
A Haitian, who lives and works legally in the Dominican Republic, told CNN that immigration officers burst into his home in the middle of the night and refused to listen to his arguments.
“I slept in my house with my family. At 3 am (local time), a group of immigration officers broke down my door and arrested me. They didn’t ask me for my papers or anything; they wouldn’t let me talk,” said a man of Haitian origin, whose legal work permit was being renewed when he was arrested.
“They just grabbed me and took me away; I told them I had papers and they didn’t even listen,” he added.
He was held overnight in squalid conditions before being released the following day.
A video he secretly filmed and shared with CNN showed a concrete building with cramped stalls filled with food and blackened with trash, and a cramped room with no beds, where at least 15 other male detainees were waiting.
“They treat them like animals. Once they put them in prison, they let them sleep there on the ground without feeding them. They destroyed people’s papers and in some cases people had no chance to show their papers,” said Sam Guillaume, a GARR spokesman.
He added that his organization received several Dominican citizens in Haiti who were seized and deported by mistake.
Efforts by the Dominican Republic to expel people of Haitian descent from the country go back years.
In 2013, the country’s constitutional court controversially ruled that Dominicans born in the country to undocumented parents should be stripped of their citizenship, rendering tens of thousands of people stateless with no other country to live in.
Known colloquially as “La Sentencia” or the Sentence, it “created a situation of statelessness on a scale never seen before in the Americas,” according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Many Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic rely on short-term residency permits to legally stay in the country through a “regularization plan.” But Kuzmova, the legal researcher, says she hears “again and again” that they risk being deported while waiting to renew those permits.
“As far as Haitian migrants are concerned, the residence permit is valid for one year and they take a year to renew it. So the reality is if that person who qualifies for a permit is pulled over on the street, they won’t have a valid document on them,” she says.
“What people say is when you get picked up with an expired card, they destroy it. And that was basically proof that you had to be in the regularization plan.
A new presidential decree, issued last week to create a specialized anti-squatting law enforcement unit, could also be used to target people of Haitian descent living in historic sugar cane plantation villages. known as bateyeswhich once attracted large numbers of migrant workers.
“The people who now live there are largely retired elderly people who used to work on the plantations, and they don’t have title deeds. So this could be another way to instrumentalize the police to enforce evictions,” Kuzmova said.
As Haiti struggles to recover from interrelated political and security crises, the UN has repeatedly called on the Dominican Republic to stop sending people there.
“Relentless armed violence and systematic human rights violations in Haiti do not currently allow for the safe, dignified and sustainable return of Haitians to the country. I reiterate my call on all countries in the region, including the Dominican Republic, to put an end to the deportation of Haitians,” said the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, at the beginning of the month.
Two days later, Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader responded derisively, describing Turk’s statement as “unacceptable and irresponsible” – and saying he would instead speed up the deportations.