|“We are pleased to see such vigorous engagement by Ambassador Yzaguirre on this issue. The treatment of Haitians and Haitian descent persons in the Dominican Republic is extremely troubling, and we are happy that this now seems to be a high priority for our embassy, especially in light of increasing xenophobia and threats of violence against Haitian migrants in the Santiago region of the Dominican Republic,” said Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Associate Advocacy Director Shaina Aber.|
This story includes updated information.
(Washington, D.C.) February 28, 2011 — Media outlets in the Dominican Republic report that undocumented Haitians were forced out of the Santiago neighborhoods of San José and La Mina in the Dominican Republic Monday morning. The leaders of neighborhood councils in the two communities had earlier posted warning signs telling the Haitians to leave or "face expulsion." The Dominican Immigration Agency had promised to discourage citizens from vigilante attacks on Haitians and the Dominican-born Haitian descent population, but no public statement was made condemning the threats of violence. Furthermore, Dominican migration authorities detained and deported Haitians from these same neighborhoods last night, according to El Diaro Libre.
[update] JRS Dominican Republic visited the affected neighborhoods this afternoon and spoke with several migrants in different areas of the community. None of them has been directly contacted regarding being forced to leave the area, nor are they aware of anyone who has been expelled. However, all have been warned that such actions were taking place elsewhere in the neighborhood. JRS believes this confusion is part of a strategy aimed at creating fear in the migrant population, and the press has sensationalized the power of the neighborhood councils, reporting rumors as news. This is adding both fear in the communities and giving unwarranted visibility to destructive and xenophobic forces and, perhaps unwittingly, promoting them.
On February 25, Jesuit Refugee Service Dominican Republic wrote to Santiago police asking that the human rights of the Haitian immigrants be protected. JRS noted that the appearance of signs posted in Santiago neighborhoods in Spanish and Creole threatening the resident Haitian population were a clear violation of the local penal code as they announced and urged the violation of the penal code itself. Despite being assured by local authorities that those signs were going to be removed they remained in place.
Last week JRS received news that several migrants were threatened that their houses would be burned if they did not leave by Sunday, February 27.
Both the Santiago police and the governor had assured JRS in private meetings their support for the respect of the rule–of–law, but no public statements were released to discourage the neighborhood councils from making good on their threats of vigilantism and xenophobic violence. JRS believes that to confront public threats against community members, a clear and public statement from authorities should have been circulated and a contingency plan should have been in place to protect the targeted community.
Earlier this month the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Raúl Yzaguirre, pleaded for the respect of human rights in the application of Dominican migration policy towards Haitians. The diplomat spoke Feb. 16, at the end of a visit to Santiago city and meetings with politicians and other business and community leaders. He described the issue of Haitian migration as extremely delicate and complex.
"We are pleased to see such vigorous engagement by Ambassador Yzaguirre on this issue. The treatment of Haitians and Haitian descent persons in the Dominican Republic is extremely troubling, and we are happy that this now seems to be a high priority for our embassy, especially in light of increasing xenophobia and threats of violence against Haitian migrants in the Santiago region of the Dominican Republic," said Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Associate Advocacy Director Shaina Aber.
In January of this year a group of neighborhood committees in the Santiago province declared their intention to incite vigilante attacks on Haitian and Haitian descent communities in the region. The Dominican Republic agreed in a 1999 bilateral protocol to allow deportees to gather their belongings and not be separated from their families. While clearly it is too late for the people who may have been evicted this morning, JRS hopes that statements like these will put more pressure on the Domincian authorities to respect this agreement and to protect Haitian migrants, earthquake survivors, and Dominicans of Haitian ancestry from violations of their human rights by civilians.
The statement came more than a month after JRS Dominican Republic condemned the mass repatriations of Haitians in the country by the immigration authorities. On January 26, 2011, the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic also issued a statement of concern following an arson attack on a sugar cane plantation, Batey Altagracia, populated by Haitian migrants and their families, which resulted in the death of a three-year-old boy of Haitian descent who was born in the Dominican Republic. In the statement, the Ambassador emphasized that extra-judicial killings corrode the rule of law and democratic governance.
JRS has noted that the migration authorities stop and question people based on their physical appearance. According to JRS, the acting authorities are clearly engaged in racial profiling when they decide who should be detained. JRS has observed many cases where authorities fail even to check ID documents before putting individuals with a "Haitian phenotype" on buses and subjecting them to detention and deportation.
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