Hundreds of children have been expelled from the Dominican Republic without their parents, according to UNICEF, amid a sweeping government campaign to remove suspected illegal immigrants from the country.
The United Nations Children’s Agency (Children) has received at least 1,800 unaccompanied children handed over to Haiti by Dominican immigration authorities since the beginning of the year, a CNN spokesperson said Monday.
The spokesperson said many arrive without identity documents and are “shipped” into the country among deported adults – raising the question of how the Dominican authorities are so sure they belong to Haiti at all.
Back in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, migrant detention centers sometimes hold parents without children.
“One woman had a diaper bag with her, but not the baby. [Immigration agents] said Yoana Kuzmova, a researcher at the Dominican Immigration Policy Research Center monitoring migration and social development in the Caribbean.
The Dominican Republic has long sought to reduce the Haitian population within its borders. But the latest wave of deportations this year is taking place with dizzying speed and breadth, leading critics to accuse the Caribbean nation’s government of racial profiling, messy executions, and disregard for human and family rights as immigration agents turn people out of the country.
The US Embassy in the Dominican Republic has warned black and “dark-skinned” Americans that they risk “increased interaction” with Dominican authorities amid the immigration crackdown. In a statement released Saturday, the embassy described “reports of unequal treatment” of US citizens based on skin color.
But Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader has rejected calls to stop the deportations, arguing that the Dominican Republic already supports neighboring Haiti more than any other country in the world.
CNN has reached out to the Dominican Republic’s Immigration Institute for comment.
In October alone, 14,801 people were sent to Haiti from the Dominican Republic, according to records from the Haitian relief organization Groupe d’Appui des Rapatriés et Réfugiés—an average of 477 people per day.
Videos on social media that appear to show Dominican immigration authorities conducting raids have caused panic among Haitians and people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, with some legal residents even telling CNN they are afraid to leave their homes.
Haiti’s Ministry of Communications called on its neighbor to respect “human dignity” on Sunday, citing “stunning images… that called attention to the inhuman and degrading treatment of Haitian citizens in the Dominican Republic.”
The immigration network swept in some people regardless of their nationality or legal status, according to former detainees and experts interviewed by CNN, as well as a US embassy statement.
A Haitian man, who lives and works legally in the Dominican Republic, told CNN that immigration agents broke into his home in the middle of the night and refused to listen to his arguments.
I slept at home with my family. At 3 am (local time), a group of immigration officers broke down my door and arrested me. They didn’t ask me for my papers or anything. They wouldn’t let me talk,” says a man of Haitian descent, whose legal work permit was under renewal when he was arrested.
“They grabbed me and took me away; I told them I had papers and they didn’t even listen.”
He was detained overnight in squalid conditions before being released the next day.
Video he secretly filmed and shared with CNN showed a concrete building with cramped stalls piled high with food and littered with trash, and a cramped room with no beds, where at least 15 other detained men waited.
“They treat them like animals. Once they put them in jail, they leave them there to sleep on the floor without feeding them. They destroyed people’s documents and in some cases, they didn’t have a chance to show their papers,” said Sam Guillaume, a GARR spokesperson.
He added that his organization had received several Dominican nationals in Haiti who had been arrested and deported by mistake.
The Dominican Republic’s efforts to get people of Haitian descent out of the country go back years.
In 2013, the country’s Constitutional Court controversially ruled that Dominicans born in the country to undocumented parents should be stripped of their citizenship – rendering tens of thousands of people stateless, with no other country to call home.
Known colloquially as “La Sentencia” or the verdict, it “created a statelessness of a magnitude unprecedented in the Americas,” according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Many Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic rely on short-term residence permits to stay in the country legally through a “settlement plan”. But legal scholar Kuzmova says she hears “over and over again” that they risk deportation while they wait to renew those permits.
When it comes to Haitian immigrants, the residence permit is valid for a year, and it takes a year to renew it. So the reality is, if this person who qualifies for a permit is picked up on the street, they don’t have a valid document on them,” she says.
“What people say is that when you get caught with an expired card, they destroy it. And that was basically the proof that you were in the regulation plan.”
A new presidential decree, issued last week to create a specialized anti-takeover law enforcement unit, could also be used to target people of Haitian descent living in historic sugar plantation villages known as Batiswhich once attracted large numbers of migrant workers.
“The people who live there now are largely retired seniors who worked on farms, and they don’t have proof of ownership. So that could be another way of using the police as a tool to enforce deportations,” Kuzmova says.
As Haiti struggles to recover from interconnected political and security crises, the United Nations has repeatedly called on the Dominican Republic to stop sending people there.
“Ongoing armed violence and systematic violations of human rights in Haiti do not currently allow for the safe, dignified and sustainable return of Haitians to the country. I reiterate my call to all countries in the region, including the Dominican Republic, to stop the deportation of Haitians,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said earlier. from this month.
Two days later, Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader responded with sarcasm, calling Turk’s statement “unacceptable and irresponsible”—and saying he would instead expedite deportations.