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Fear and Chaos Await Haitian Migrants Forced Back Across the Border

At the Dajabón border crossing between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, a constant stream of trucks pulls up carrying undocumented Haitian migrants who are being deported back to their home country. They are being sent to a nation in the grip of its most acute humanitarian crisis since the devastating earthquake in 2010, which tragically claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

“I’d been in the Dominican Republic for three years,” shouted construction worker Michael Petiton, “they came into my house and took me from my home.” He had worked diligently, undertaking a job that most Dominicans did not want. Now he finds himself back in Haiti with only the clothes on his back and a few tools he managed to salvage in a rucksack.

Haiti’s already precarious situation has deteriorated rapidly over recent weeks as gangs have launched coordinated attacks on key facilities in an effort to force the resignation of the country’s Prime Minister. In total, over 350,000 people have been internally displaced in Haiti – more than 15,000 of them in just the past fortnight.

Yet here at the border crossing, the Dominican authorities have been repatriating hundreds of undocumented Haitians every day. Dominican soldiers unlock the wrought iron gates, calling out dozens of people and sending them across the Massacre River into Haiti. Some of the immigrants are furious, shouting indignantly in Spanish and Creole. Others are resigned, holding their children or few possessions in their arms.

The message the Dominican Republic appears to be conveying is that no matter how dire the circumstances become at home, Haitians should not seek refuge on Dominican territory. Last month, the country’s President Luis Abinader demanded before the United Nations Security Council in New York that the international community step up aid to Haiti and deploy a multinational force there. He urged the UN to “fight together to save Haiti”, warning that if no assistance was forthcoming, his country would “fight alone to protect the Dominican Republic”.

Questioned last week about the possibility of receiving Haitians fleeing unrest, Mr Abinader categorically ruled out accepting refugee camps on Dominican soil. Those being returned to Haiti now face considerable uncertainty.

“The current situation in the capital city, Port-au-Prince, is a humanitarian catastrophe for its three million inhabitants, and more specifically for women and girls,” said the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)’s Haiti representative, Philippe Serge Degernier. The widespread gang violence has forced many hospitals to close and others are not functioning properly as fuel and essential medical supplies are blocked by criminal groups.

Mr Degernier told the BBC that just one of the 15 hospitals his organisation supports was currently operational. “They’re overwhelmed,” he said. “We have estimated that about 3,000 women will not have access to maternity care in order to give birth unless the situation calms down soon.”

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