Heart to Heart International Responds to Haiti Refugee Crisis

Haitian Refugee Family
Since mid-June 2015, Heart to Heart International (HHI) has been responding to the crisis at the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, providing medical care, food and aid for more than one thousand refugees. These men, women and children have filled makeshift camps, fleeing the political winds in the Dominican Republic and the possibility of government sanctioned deportations.

The numbers vary, but as of this writing, approximately 40,000 people have either left on their own or were forced to cross the border into Haiti. And approximately 1,100 of these refugees sought shelter and aid in a region where Heart to Heart International normally operates – Southeast Haiti. This is the same region of Haiti where HHI runs mobile health clinics and works with partners like BD to train village healthcare workers.

The Situation
This movement of people stems from recent political decisions in the Dominican Republic, the country that jointly occupies the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. The long history between these island neighbors has been periodically tumultuous. And, for a very long time, Haitians have gone to the Dominican Republic seeking work and a better life.

In 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Supreme Court ruled that people born between 1929 and 2010 in the country to non-citizen parents did not qualify as Dominican citizens. The decision effectively stripped tens of thousands of people of their nationality retroactively.

The court ruling has been accused of rendering hundreds of thousands of people born in the Dominican Republic as state-less, essentially stripping them of their citizenship. Following the ruling, the government created a process to allow people to prove they belong, to prove they are citizens. The deadline to apply was June 17, 2015 and with it came veiled and overt threats of forced deportations.

While the Dominican Republic government states they have not begun any formal expulsions of undocumented Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent, thousands have left, finding their own way or using government provided voluntary transport and crossed the Haitian border into the unknown.

Into the Desert
Along the border in far southeast Haiti the landscape is more desert-like than tropical Caribbean. It’s hot and humid, but also dusty and dry. It’s covered in scrub brush and cactus. It is a harsh environment in the best of conditions.

Tens of thousands have crossed at other points along the north/south running border, and approximately 2,700 crossed in the area of Anse-à-Pitres, a small remote border town. Refugees who’ve come across here are directed to two camps Tête à l’Eau (Tetalo) & Parc Cadeau (Pascado). These camps are a hodgepodge of rapidly made stick frame huts, some simply covered in cardboard and built on ground that has been burned clear.

Many of these refugees grew up in the DR, some were born there, and others are more recent immigrants seeking work, mostly hard labor jobs like cutting sugar cane. Some have no connection to Haiti, other than their lineage. Heart to Heart International social workers from the UNICEF Kore Fanmi project recently conducted a survey of the people in these camps.

Here’s some of what they found:

  • In Pascado camp about a third were under the age of 14
  • In Tête à l’Eau camp about 70% were born or grew up in the DR
  • More than half of those in Tête à l’Eau had nowhere to go in Haiti

On top of their normal clinic duties in the region, HHI’s Haitian Medical Teams visit these camps to provide medical care. And HHI has assembled and delivered hundreds of crisis kits filled with food, rice, beans, milk, oil and sugar – and with hygiene items to help stem any disease outbreaks.

There appears to be no immediate end to this crisis. We don’t know how long these camps may stay, or how many more people will arrive. We do know that no matter why or what is making people cross the border they need our help.