Haitian migrants hide as Dominican Republic pursues deportations

Officials say deportations are needed to prevent flow of illegal immigrants.

Last Updated: Jan 08, 2011, 10:00 AM IST

Santo Domingo: Many Haitians were in hiding or staying in their homes in the Dominican Republic on Friday amid an immigration crackdown fuelled by cholera fears that has seen more than 1,000 Haitians sent home.

Human rights groups have denounced the deportations, which Dominican officials say are needed to prevent the flow of illegal immigrants since last year`s earthquake and to stop the spread of cholera, which has killed more than 3,000 people in Haiti and sickened nearly 150 in the Dominican Republic.

Soldiers and immigration officials set up surprise checkpoints this week along highways leading into the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, asking people aboard public buses and vans for their papers. Those without them are sent back to the border.

Late Friday afternoon, authorities were still targeting illegal immigrants.

Ginel Sama, 25, was escorted off a bus when it stopped at a tollbooth.

"I have children and my wife," he said briefly before being whisked away. "I had a visa, but it expired some eight months ago."

Carlos Batista, a Dominican of Haitian descent, was aboard another bus that immigration officials searched.

"I think this is very wrong because they take away a lot of them with their small children and send them to Haiti," he said.

Frankie Espil is a Haitian migrant who owes six months` rent and has two young children to feed, but he prefers to stay at home than take several public buses to his longtime construction job. The 30-year-old fears he will join the more than 1,000 Haitian migrants deported this week.

"We`re all scared here," Espil said. "We heard they`re going to start coming into our homes."

Oxene Clemente, a Haitian pastor at a Dominican church near the border, said he decided not to travel to Haiti for the holidays because he does not have enough money to renew his visa.

He believes neither he nor his seven children, five of them born in Haiti, will be deported because they are well known in the community.

But Clemente, 42, said he worries about his parishioners, many of whom travelled to Haiti and likely will not be able to return.

"The guards are in all of the streets and all of the hills," he said.

On Friday, Amnesty International asked the Dominican government to step up efforts to help its earthquake-shattered neighbour instead of forcing people back to what it called a desperate situation.

"Any Haitian suspected of cholera should be given adequate medical treatment and not be deported," senior adviser Javier Zuniga said. "Returning people is condemning them to a situation where their health and security would be at great risk."

Fritz Cineas, Haiti`s Ambassador in the Dominican Republic, said he recognised the country`s right to deport illegal immigrants but asked that their rights be respected.

Bureau Report