Amnesty International calls for end to mass Haitian deportations by Dominican Republic

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Amnesty International is calling on the government of the Dominican Republic to end immigration policies toward Haitians that the agency says include mass, discriminatory expulsions and racial profiling of Black Dominicans of Haitian descent.

In an open letter to Dominican President Luis Abinader, the human rights organization said it has documented instances where the rights of both Haitians and Black Dominicans are being violated.

“The information received by Amnesty International and civil society organizations in the Dominican Republic reveal worrying violations of human rights committed through measures of racialized exclusion of Haitian and Dominican people of Haitian descent by immigration agents, police and members of the security forces armed forces that assist the General Directorate of Immigration in immigration operations,” the human rights organization said.

Since the beginning of the year, the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, has expelled more than 30,000 Haitians to Haiti, according to data from the United Nations International Organization for Migration, which tracks deportations. Among those returned to Haiti are 12,598 Haitians who were expelled from the Dominican Republic in March.

Following the latest violent uprising by an alliance of armed groups in Port-au-Prince, Abinader said that he would not allow refugee camps in his country for Haitians seeking refuge. He has continued with expulsions despite calls by human rights groups that deportations should cease. Efforts to reach Dominican officials were unsuccessful.

Amnesty International is seeking a meeting with the president, who is currently running for reelection. The agency’s concerns include complaints by artists, civil society organizations, activists and members of the diplomatic corps in the Dominican Republic that they are being harassed online, and are the targets of threats and boycotts of their activities by groups that operate based on racist and xenophobic rhetoric.

The Dominican Republic “has not taken measures to prevent xenophobia, racism, discrimination and intolerance based on national, racial or ethnic origin,” Amnesty said. “It is also of utmost importance that the State authorities must refrain from stigmatizing Haitian people on the move as an economic burden for the State and as a threat to sovereignty and national security.”

Amnesty says Haitian asylum seekers are being arbitrarily arrested and deported, and that certificates granting protection are not being renewed. From October 2023 to January 2024, no permanent residencies have been renewed or issued to nationals of Haiti. Only four Haitians have received permanent residence and one was granted temporary residence, Amnesty said.

The Dominican government has suspended legal means for people from Haiti to enter the country and renew their study, residence or work visas. “This suspension has left people in a situation of irregular immigration status and has separated families,” Amnesty said.

Tensions between both countries flared up last fall after Haitians began constructing a canal along the Massacre River in northeast Haiti on the border. Objecting to the construction, Dominican authorities shut down their entire border with Haiti and suspended the processing and issuance of visas, residence permits and other immigration relief to Haitians until further notice.

Amid the controversy, at least one Black Dominican of Haitian descent was arrested and, after being mistaken for a Haitian national, she was deported to Haiti, according to her family. Cristina Martínez Lorenzo finally re-emerged in the Dominican Republic after going missing for 23 days.

“Measures must be urgently adopted to avoid racial profiling in the arrests of people, whether Dominican or foreign,” Amnesty said.

In its report, the agency said there are other troubling practices including the deportation of pregnant women and children from the Dominican Republic, and the existing barriers confronting those seeking international protection, including at the border with Haiti.

Amnesty said that Haitians seeking asylum in the Dominican Republic continue to have their applications overwhelming rejected, according to data that was submitted to the U.S. State Department by the National Refugee Commission.

“The 2018 report of said organization mentions that according to United Nations officials, the rejection rate of applications submitted since 2013 was 96%. The same report highlights that, according to UNHCR, of the more than 300 cases of asylum seekers between 2012 and 2016 that received a final decision, the government rejected 99% with the vague justification of ‘lack of evidence,’” Amnesty said. “Furthermore, 99% of the applicants were of Haitian origin.”

The data, Amnesty said, along with other information from later years is “alarming, and together with the barriers to access to asylum, they raise fears that there will be even fewer cases are being effectively processed, and the way in which the Dominican government is applying the standards international matters of asylum and refuge.”

The agency asked that the Dominican Republic use recognized international standards to decide the status of Haitian refugees.