Op-Ed: Thoughts on the Refugee Crisis on the Dominican-Haitian Border

John A. Carroll, MD —  HaitiHearts

As most of us know nothing is as simple as it seems. Everything is not
usually black or white. There is some gray and maybe even some blue.

But I want to be clear.  There is a huge “human rights violation” occurring
on the Haitian-Dominican border right now. People I have visited in the
camps just outside of Anse-a-Pitres are being treated like animals.  Many
of these folks have told me that no one cares about them. And they are
right. They are being treated like animals.

Their essential rights to protection, food, water, and medical care are not
being upheld. They are held captive to their daily need to survive and they
are not viable members of any society except their camp society where they
exist day-to-day.

This is all a man-made disaster and has been created on both sides of the
Haitian-Dominican border. Both Dominican and Haitian authorities are guilty
of these human rights violations.  And the deaths and the misery of the
people imprisoned in these camps are on their shoulders.

The exodus is in large part the consequence of a 2013 ruling by the
Dominican Constitutional Court that effectively stripped some 200,000
Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship, thereby creating the
largest stateless population in the Western Hemisphere.” (foreign

During my conversations with many individuals in these camps I asked them,
“What can anyone do for you?” Their answer was: “Give me a piece of land
where I can grow crops to feed my family.” They would gladly use their hoe
and their pick ax and their back muscles to make this happen.

These folks were not living a high-life during their decades in the
Dominican. Their lives were not rosy over there.  They worked in the fields
and worked as domestics for Dominican families. And If their lives would
have been better in Haiti, they wouldn’t have left in the first place.
(Many of these deportees have lived in the Dominican for decades…without
“proper papers”.)

Julia Harrington Reddy, a senior legal officer with Open Society Justice
Initiative, described the Dominican Republic’s court ruling and treatment
of Dominican Haitians as a “civil genocide.”

“It’s really going as far as you can go without killing them,” Reddy said.
“You essentially make people disappear… In this case, although no one is
going out to shoot these people, in a systematic way, taking away their
nationality is a way of extinguishing all of their rights and effectively
extinguishing them as a social and political force.” (USA Today)

But I would go further. I think we are in fact killing them. We are killing
them through wanton neglect. I have heard of five who have died recently
due to this camp situation and, just as importantly, I have looked into the
eyes of these people and can see they are slowly losing their “force”.

This eloquently spoken  32-year-old lady told me that she and her six kids
and husband have lived in the camp since mid-June. I asked her if she was
beaten or physically hurt in any way in the DR. She said that she had not
been physically hurt in any way,  but she had heard that if Haitians did
not leave Haiti soon, they would be killed. So she and her husband
determined it was time to go. They have no legal papers.
[image: Anse-a-Pitres Refugee Camp (Photo by John Carroll–September 19,
2015)]Anse-a-Pitres Refugee Camp (Photo by John Carroll–September 19, 2015)

This man is 61 years old and told me he lived in the Dominican Republic for
29 years. When I talked to him the other day he was holding his head in
pain. The heat and sun are relentless and a child right next to him was
loudly scraping a few grains of white rice with a metal spoon from a big
steel bowl and the noise which was making this man’s headache unbearable.
And so he yelled at the little boy to be quiet. A neighbor lady a few feet
away joined in and threw a stick at the little boy who happily hopped away
with his bowl.

This gentleman told me he has a brother two hours up the mountain from the
camp in Thiotte but they have no room for him or his family. So he is stuck
in hell holding his head. (Many Haitians left Haiti decades ago and have no
one to come back to. Their village may have been flooded or their original
blood families have left their village for one reason or another and are
lost to the refugees.)
[image: Anse-a-Pitres Refugee Camp (Photo by John Carroll–September 19,
2015)]Anse-a-Pitres Refugee Camp (Photo by John Carroll–September 19, 2015)

This man, with the blue hat, lived and worked in the Dominican for 37
years. He is 47 years old now. (I blotted out his face.)  He has no legal
papers either. He told me that he sneaks back and forth across the border
EACH day from the camp to work in the Dominican fields for a little cash
and then sneaks back to the camp at night. He said he is very afraid to do
this but has little choice.

Other campers sneak back across border in the morning and cut limbs off of
trees on the Dominican side and carry them back to the Haitian side where
they turn them into charcoal to sell for few cents. (They of course would
not need to cut down Dominican tree limbs if there were any tree limbs left
in Haiti to cut down.)

For several days after being in the camps in the mornings, I crossed the
border into the Dominican border town of  Pedernales. It took me a total of
five minutes to cross the river and have my passport stamped by the
Dominican Aduana.

My main reasons for crossing over were to check out the city, the local
hospital, and use their internet cafe to post. (I had no wifi in

As I walked into Pedernales, I saw why Haitians cross the border. I didn’t
really want to return. The streets were paved, fairly clean, and with much
less chaos than on the Haitian side.

The local hospital in Pedernales is Dr. Elio Fiallo and was not far from
the town square. I took a quick tour of the place and it didn’t seem bad.
And they are actually building a new hospital next to the existing one. I
have never seen one State run hospital in all of Haiti during the last
three decades that was as nice as this border town hospital.

And, lo and behold, illegal Haitians in Pedernales are treated here. For
free.  The two Haitian women below were having their sick babies examined
in the Emergency Room of Dr. Elio Fiallo Hospital.
[image: Dominican Hospital in Pedernales (Photo by John Carroll–September
19, 2015)]Dominican Hospital in Pedernales (Photo by John Carroll–September
19, 2015)

Walking up and down the clean streets of  Pedernales were women of Haitian
descent selling their wares. They sure “looked” illegal to me but I did not
ask to see their papers. No one was bothering them or even paying much
attention to them.

One afternoon I stopped in at a local restaurant in Pedernales for a cold
El Presidente. A Haitian man named Tito (made up name) in his mid-twenties
was working there. He smiled a lot and was light-skinned and I actually
thought he was Dominican when I first saw him. But his fluent Haitian
Creole and stumbling Spanish give him away.

Tito is obviously highly intelligent and stated that he had been in the
Dominican for two years and is undocumented. He cooks, cleans, and does the
shrubbery. It was obvious to me that the restaurant staff liked Tito a
lot.  He told me he is paid 80 Dollars US every two weeks.

Tito has a an undocumented Haitian wife with a new 3 month old baby girl.
The baby was born in a city near Pedernales in the Dominican. I asked Tito
the “status” of his baby…in other words is she legal or illegal and thus
deportable with her Tito and his wife.  He smiled and told me that even
though both he and his wife are illegal, when the baby was born he simply
paid off the doctor. He gave the doctor 400 pesos which is equivalent to
about nine dollars US.  And the good Dominican doctor “declared” her a
Dominicana.  All was good.

Tito went on to tell me that he occasionally sneaks back and forth across
the border on market day (Monday and Fridays). Market days are highly
chaotic in the river bed along the border and therefore much easier to
cross into the Dominican.  In January of this year Tito got caught by the
Dominican guards as he was sneaking across.  But a simple phone call by him
to his boss at the restaurant was all he needed to do. His boss drove
quickly to the border and paid off the guard. He needed Tito to get back to
work at the restaurant.

So what would I do I think is the answer to this deportee problem in
Haiti?  I usually deal with patient problems one-on-one. I don’t feel
comfortable with trying to discern what to do with 1,400 people in camps in
Anse-a-Pitres or with 60,000 refugees up and down the Haitian-Dominican
border. My answers are maybe a bit creative and maybe are not all that
good.  Many expert opinions are needed. And implementation of good plans
needs to happen. We can’t just keep taking photos and counting heads as the
people in the camps continue to wilt away.

Here is what I would do:

   1. I would boycott tourism in the Dominican Republic until the Dominican
   Republic quit deporting these black people of Haitian descent. Many are
   leaving voluntarily because they are not keen on being killed in the
   Dominican if they stay.
   2. I would quit funding the Haitian government so they can have 35
   million dollar elections that are a joke and not supported by the vast
   majority of Haitians.  The people in the camps, in Soleil, and in the rural
   provinces know that the Haitian government will do nothing for them. Ever.
   3. I would not flood these camps up and down the border with doctors and
   nurses flown in from everywhere on earth.  Too much money and time and not
   enough bang for the buck.
   4. I would close the camps in Anse-a-Pitres. The old ladies would leave
   first and the women and children would follow. The man who owns the land
   where the camps sit wants his land back.  He should get his cactus, rocks,
   and dirt back as soon as possible.
   5. Where would the refugees go? The refugees would be adopted into
   Haitian homes. The Haitian Catholic Church supported by Caritas and many
   other Catholic organizations from around the world  would provide the
   finances.  And each Haitian home would be given a certain amount of money
   to care for the old lady each month.  These host families  would provide
   her with shelter, treated water, food, and protection. This financial
   support would continue until the lady dies of natural causes in five years.
   Please remember that Paul Farmer gave his tuberculosis patients money to
   come and get their tuberculosis medication. And they did it and many
   survived their tuberculosis. That didn’t seem like rocket science to me,
   but it sure worked.
   6. The babies and mothers need to be placed in host families too. This
   can be done. Don’t tell me it can’t.
   7. If any other countries wanted to step up and help these folks, that
   would be fine. Many of these refugees already speak Spanish. How about
   Cuba? How about Venezuela? How about Mexico? How about many countries in
   Central America?  How about the United States/Canada? How about almost
   8. Would some people refuse to leave the camps? Sure. Some are working
   on their papers right now so they can go back to the Dominican legally.
   That is fine if they want to stay as long as the landowner does not pitch
   them out.

These ideas may indeed be facile. I didn’t talk about sustainability once.
Shame on me. But I think we could figure it out.

According to a wise Canadian friend of mine who has spent decades in
Haiti: “Haiti
has been a grand success. The rich are still rich and the poor are still
poor. It worked out just as planned.”

And according to Nick Kristof of the New York Times,  “It’s irresponsible
to throw up our hands and say there’s nothing that can be done (with the
refugee problems around the world).  He added,  “Then, almost certainly
things will get worse.”