Haiti warns of security threat in migration crisis

Port-au-Prince (AFP) - A flood of people leaving the Dominican Republic for Haiti could grow into a humanitarian disaster and regional security threat, Port-au-Prince warned Tuesday.

The crisis at the crossroads of the poorest country in the Americas, and its slightly better-off Dominican neighbor to the east, echoed in Washington.

The Organization of American States said it would dispatch a delegation to assess what it called an alarming situation.

The OAS wants the Dominican Republic to stop sending people to Haiti, Secretary General Luis Almagro said.

"The situation has been deteriorating as the days go by," he warned an OAS Permanent Council meeting.

Since June 17, when a registration program for undocumented migrants ran out in the Dominican Republic, more than 17,000 people have poured across the border into Haiti.

The Dominicans insist those who have left did so voluntarily.

The prototype is a person of Haitian heritage but born in the Dominican Republic, now being forced to relocate to a place where they have perhaps distant roots but often do not speak the Creole language, and have no known family.

The countries share the mountainous Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

But there is a long history of animosity, cultural discrimination and racism among the next-door nations.

- Newly stateless face abuse -

Haiti's OAS Ambassador Bocchit Edmond reported that Dominicans of Haitian descent often have their belongings stolen, or are beaten, as Dominican authorities turn a blind eye.

What is worse, Haitian Foreign Minister Lener Renauld suggested they are not entirely welcome in Haiti.

"This situation represents a risk of humanitarian catastrophe, a destabilizing factor for the country, a serious threat to domestic and regional security," he said.

He spoke to a gathering of UN officials and the diplomatic corps in Port-au-Prince.

Renauld said Haiti wants to have some say beforehand as to who comes in and reach an accord to this effect with the Dominicans. Haitian security forces dealing with the influx are overwhelmed.

"Who are these people? Are they criminals? Have they run afoul of Dominican law?" he asked. "We cannot be saddled with criminals who we do not know."

Haiti is destitute, riddled with crime and still struggling to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake.

UN peacekeepers who have been here for the past 11 years are beginning to pull out.

The migration crisis stems from a Dominican court ruling in 2013 that children born in the country of undocumented foreigners do not have Dominican citizenship.

The ruling was made retroactive to 1929. So overnight more than 250,000 people -- mostly those born of Haitian parents -- became stateless.

- Dominican Republic drags feet -

Under international pressure, the Dominicans set up a program to register people of Haitian origin who have been living in the Dominican Republic for years.

But with documents slow to arrive from Haiti and Dominican registration offices overwhelmed by the crowds of applicants, more than 180,000 people were still unregistered by the June 17 deadline, according to the Dominican government.

They now risk expulsion.

Many are young people whose Haitian parents worked in Dominican fields where there was no access to documentation of their birth.

They were born in the Dominican Republic, and have lived their entire lives in a country they thought was theirs, only to learn they now have none.