Friday, August 21, 2015

What Does the Future Hold For he 356 Haitian Refugee Families in Anise A Pitres?

Since the TC Ruling 168/13 was published in the Dominican Republic – a law which the Dominican Government put in place against foreigners living on their territory, people who do not have legal permits to remain in the country – There is a xenophobia mixed with racism that has been declared on the other side of the border that targets especially those who have dark skin, Haitians in particular. Before this ruling, the Dominican constitution recognized every person born on its territory as a Dominican citizen following the law called “Jus soli,” which meant that anyone born on its territory was Dominican.

TC Ruling 168/13 reinforced another retroactive decree that the Dominicans took, which declared that people who were born on Dominican soil after the year 1929 lost their Dominican nationality – in particular Haitians. This is a measure that violates all international and regional laws. It is a measure against human rights, an illegal measure. No country on this earth has ever denationalized its citizens!  All countries, especially those in Latin America, are protesting against this measure; many protests have been held all over to denounce the situation that the Dominican Republic is creating in the area. 

To counter the protests that are coming from all over, the Dominican Republic, created what they call PNRE (National Plan of Regularization of Foreigners), where they give immigrants, Haitians and other foreigners that are living on the territory, the chance to collect their legal documentation in order to remain in the country. In the meantime, even if the Dominican government told those people that they could apply at no cost, the people still have a lot of fees that are incurred including a notary, lawyer, etc. They do not have the money to put together the documents that are being requested. The process is very tedious, but there are no means to even assist all of the Haitians that are considered illegal obtain their papers. The deadline for people to rectify their situations expired on June 17, 2015 at 7:00 pm. Those Haitians who are unable to obtain these regularization papers will be illegal or stateless.

The people are panicking and leaving the Dominican Republic in large numbers. The Haitian government, on its end, created a program PIDHIP (Identification Program with Haitian Documentation). The consulates in the Dominican Republic are supposed to give those people passports and national identification cards. In reality, they don’t have enough documents to distribute, and they are asking the undocumented to pay for this service. The program is ineffective. As soon as the Haitian ambassador in the Dominican Republic, Mr. Supplice, denounced the program, the Haitian government fired him.


The governments of both countries are pointing the finger at each other. For example, the Haitian government is claiming illegal deportations, persecutions, and violence, while the Dominican government is claiming voluntary deportations. Since the deadline has passed, it is estimated that there are more than 45,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians who were living there without papers who have returned to Haiti. In reality, Haitians who are living in the Dominican Republic are being persecuted. Dominicans are committing violent crimes against Haitian descent Dominicans, stealing their possessions, land and homes with all of their belongings. We have the refugees’ testimonies clearly stating that they have no protection. 



Based on the principle that we must see with our own eyes and hear what the refugees have to say, the Lambi team went to Anse a Pitre on July 23, 2015, where there are two large refugee camps. Ansapit is a small village that is a part of the Commune of Belans, Southeast Department, on the Dominican and Haitian border. The majority of the people in the area live on fishing. To get there, we go through Croix des Bouquets, Ganthier, Fond Parisien, Fond Verette, Foret des Pins and Thiotte. The village of Ansapit is situated approximately 80 kilometres from Port au Prince. The roads are not great; it took 4 ½ hours to get there. The area is arid and has a lot of dust. Before you enter into the village of Ansapit, you go through Bannann where we saw the two refugee camps. We say “refugee camps,” but in reality it is a grouping of people who occupied the space after crossing the border. The people shared with us that they do not have anyone there to welcome or receive them. They do not have tents, and there are not even tarps to provide them with shelter. They take cover under 4 wooden sticks that they planted and covered with cardboard or old rags that cannot not protect them against the sun or the rain.

At the first camp we saw a group of people with small pails in hand seeking water. We asked if we could meet with them. They said they were going to a nearby town and they would be back later. A man who seemed to be a leader said, “ok, I will organize a meeting with you.” We passed in front of the second encampment and then continued to go to Anse a Pitres. Anse a Pitres is not very different from other villages in Haiti. There is no electricity, no infrastructure and very limited movement of people. However, there is water because I saw a poster indicating there was a joint project between Haiti and the DR to bring potable water and water for irrigation. The people living in Ansapit indicated that the Ministry of Agriculture does not help the inhabitants to plant, so the water in the irrigation canal is going to waste.  

                 


We went to the border, but on this day there was hardly any movement on either side.  It was not market day. There was a construction site on the Dominican Republic side that appeared to be a market site, but there was no activity. It all seemed normal. We noted that due to the heat, the immigration officers took refuge sitting outside under the trees with no apparent activity.

We left the village and went to another encampment, the one that we really came to observe. 
                  
In the first area we learned that there are 218 families living there.  We observed a general state of destitution in the way people are living under the scorching sun. In addition, the vast majority are mostly women and children. One woman invited us to shelter from the hot sum in her makeshift shelter of pieces of material all torn up. She had nothing in there just a bucket, a pan for cooking, and some old rags/tattered clothing. She did not even have a straw mat to sleep on. However with much politeness she asked one of her 8 children to get a bucket and turn it upside down. She put a cushion on it so that a member of the team could sit on it. She apologized since she could not offer a chair to all four of us.  Her face was in distress. She is 35 years old, and her name is Marina. 

              


Marina related that she was born in Pedernales (a town in the Dominican Republic that is across from Anse a Pitres). Her mother and father came long ago to the Dominican Republic in search of a better life. She is not sure where her parents are from in Haiti. They have both died. She said she is a Dominican but does not have the documents to prove this; however, the hospital where she was born has documentation of her birth. She knows no one in Haiti. She is sitting there not knowing her fate and that of her children. She hasn’t seen any government officials to tell them what they can do for them. She is about to lose her mind; however, she must remain firm in order to save her children. Marina is courageous woman.

We asked Marina if she was forced to return to Haiti. She said “no,” it was her choice because where she lived, she was threatened often by the Dominicans. Whenever she met a Dominican, they would remind her what Trujillo did in 1937 when so many Haitians were assassinated. She left the DR because of fear. To protect her children, she crossed the border, but her husband stayed. We asked her if she had come through immigration services. She said she came across the river to arrive at this particular place. Her husband works in the bateys and on other plantations. She was a domestic worker. Their children of age attended school. 

                   


“Even though life was not great in the Dominican Republic, we were able to etch out a living,” Marina told us.

When we asked about her outlook on the future, she stated that she does not have a vision of tomorrow. There is no indication of support from the state; the administration of Haiti has abandoned them. It was a pastor who brought them a small amount rice, hardly enough to feed the family. Marina is in a state of despair.

When other people realized we were sitting with Marina under her tent, they came to bring their own testimony and experiences. A woman who did not share her name said she was walking when a bus stopped next to her and the occupants made her get on the bus. She told the driver that she had two kids at home. The driver who seemed to be a good soul, took her to pick up her children, put them on the bus, then took them to the border. Her husband has no idea what happened to her, though she has tried to send him messages.

Many people gathered at Marina’s place, but many refused to talk. They were listening, at times approving or agreeing with what was being said. It seems that everyone had the same issues. Those born in the Dominican Republic are Dominicans and do not know anyone in Haiti. Others had gone to the Dominican Republic to escape poverty in Haiti. There are people in the Dominican Republic who have been there between 4 to 10 years.  Many of them were working in the plantations, but many had no regular jobs and were doing what they could find daily. In general, they have no official identification, Dominican or Haitian.

The conditions they are living in now are horrendous. They are in the dirt, food is insufficient, they have no secure shelter, and many express a sense of loss of respect and dignity. In spite of the difficulties they are facing, at no moment did they ask us for money. They keep asking for work.

The second camp we visited had 138 families who were living there. Pastor Harris previously told us he was organizing a meeting for us at the church with those living in the camp. He constructed the church location with coconut leaves and made some makeshift benches with wood. When we arrived at the church, there were about 30 persons waiting for us, people of all ages, elderly, young men and women and a lot of children.



We introduced ourselves as concerned Haitian citizens who came to find out about the current situation. There was a lot of information circulating but nothing specific to living in the camp. Our purpose was to be informed and to share the information with other Haitians who are concerned as well. We needed to mobilize on these issues. We promised to disseminate the information everywhere we could.

Pastor Harris, with a young man who appeared to be a leader, spoke and explained what was occurring in this site. Pastor Harris said he came from Bèlfontèn and went to the DR 16 years ago. His parents worked as lessees on a plantation, and when they died, he had no place to go and returned to Port au Prince to seek employment. He could not find any means to earn a living, so he went to the DR with a group that was going to work in the fields. He had been working as a farmer until he was able to find a piece of land to work for himself. In his mind, the Dominicans have never accepted the presence of the Haitians in spite of the fact it is Haitians who work in the plantations. However, they were not threatening to kill them as in the last few months. He said that when they burned his house he realized he could not stay in the country that is such an enemy, so he crossed the river and landed here without a place to stay, no job with nothing. He is not begging for charity, but he asked the government to help them work the land for agriculture. There is water and land available for farming where they are currently.

               


Those camping in these two sites have no representation from any government institutions or anyone else. The Prime Minister and the first lady of Haiti visited the site. They said they would give each person some money to go back to their town of origin. Most of the people who are there do not know where their family originated in Haiti. They were born in the DR or left Haiti many years ago. They are not linked to family in Haiti, so what would they do when they arrived at the place of origin of their ancestors? They do not belong here in Haiti in many ways. The government must have a planned program to relocate them where necessary.

The majority of people in the camp are women and children. Children are scattered everywhere. In the same way the first camp is, the second is similar. There is no shelter or even a tarp to protect people against dust, sun and rain. There is no food available.

               


There are numerous pregnant women who returned to Haiti. Many babies are born on the site in very bad circumstances. In the group there is a woman who recently gave birth to a baby. She is holding the baby, and she wrapped the baby to protect her from the dust; only her little face is visible. The mother’s face is stressed. She said she has no husband here, “I am here with my arms hanging on my side; what will I do?” Her two other children are in the DR with their father. I was very afraid because I saw a Dominican bust the head off a Haitian with a machete, and I ran and cross the river to get here.

There was a fairly old gentleman who said he was born in the Dominican Republic. He went to school and studied electronics. He earned a living with his training until he was caught in the street, detained, placed on a bus and dropped at the Haitian border. He has had no news of his wife and their four children.  He is trying to go back, but in the Dominican Republic, he has no papers.
One woman in the group was complaining. She was hungry. The rice that she received from a pastor from time to time was not enough to feed herself and the four children. She asked what the government is going to do for them. They are praying that the rain does not come because they have a very poor shelter. If the rain comes, the small children may get sick or even die.

We asked them if the Ministry of Public health had been there. They answered no. In the Ansapit, there is one community clinic, and we asked if they could go there? They indicated that they were not sure. The Mayor of Anse a Pitre came once to the camp when the First Lady of Haiti came to visit. No one has returned since.

The pastor is accompanied by a younger man who is trying to organize the two camps and restore order reduce potential crime, but it is rather difficult. They really need the presence of government officials in the country. Many representatives of the NGOs have come by, talked to them, taken pictures and made promises; however, none have returned. What the refugees find most humiliating is the journalists from the Dominican Republic who come to take pictures and ask them what the Haitian government has done for them. Today they received the Lambi Fund because we offered up front that we are here fact finding so that we can circulate the information to others so they know what is happening in Bannann/Anse a Pitre. They trust us.

In one testimony after another, the situation they are living is the same. The state has no presence there. There is no official center to welcome them. It seems that there is no plan to help them. However, the people continue to cross the border. On a daily basis the Dominican people as well as the Dominican police are committing egregious acts of violence against the Haitians. They relate that even Dominican friends are rising against them.

In October 1937, Haitians in the Dominican Republic were victims of an “ethnic cleansing” that the racist government of Trujillo organized. 26,000 Haitians fell victims of violence. This cleansing in 2015 is a prolongation of the same as that of 1937, but in another form. The conditions that allow the Dominican government to attack the Haitian people with impunity are ever present. If the Haitian people do not stand mobilized, not only to build a solidarity chain across the nation to support the people the Dominicans are pushing out, but also to radically change the conditions that result in the humiliation of our people, the same causes will continue with similar consequences.



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