Both countries share the island of Hispaniola and a 390-kilometer border that will be divided by the construction of a border wall, as a result of the tightening of the Dominican Republic’s immigration measures due to the crisis in Haiti. Every week, at least 20,000 Haitians pass through the gate at the international bridge in Dajabón, a northeastern Dominican border city where economic activity revolves around the binational market built by the European Union.
At eight o’clock in the morning every Monday and Friday, a Dominican military operation opens the doors of its territory to thousands of Haitians who gather on the bridge, some with helmets because they work in construction, others with carts for goods and many with money to trade. Under the watchful eye of the military trying to control the rush of Haitians to enter, thousands cross for almost 12 hours.
Most cross the border just a few meters to enter the market, buy and return, while others register with immigration control because they will go to the city as essential labor, with the only requirement of having legal documentation.
“This market moves 50% of the Dominican Republic, because if we realize Haiti is a country that produces practically nothing and we are the closest region they have and they supply us with 80 or 90% of their needs,” comments Alfredo Bejarano, a merchant from Dajabón. Official data shows that the Dominican Republic bought Haitian products worth just 4 million dollars, although it sold more than 500 million to Haiti in 2021.
When consulting about relations with Haitians, Bejarano assures that “the inconveniences always come from that side, because Haiti is a very unstable country in terms of security, in terms of president and countless things.” But Reyno, a Haitian merchant who lives in Juana Méndez, on the other side of the bridge, assures that there is an abuse of authority on the part of the Dominican authorities, who undertake rigorous immigration control.
“We normally cross here every day to buy some merchandise, but the problem is that the Dominican military, the heads of customs, all migration lets Haitian nationals in, and later picks them up, detains them for a day and returns them. in the afternoon,” says Reyno.
The flow of migrants has skyrocketed in recent months due to insecurity and political chaos in Haiti, which has led the Dominican government to reinforce its borders. In 2022 alone, more than 160,000 Haitians were returned from the Dominican Republic, according to the Support Group for Repatriates and Refugees, an organization that claims that at least 60,000 of them were arrested before being deported.
Before and after the wall
The construction of the wall advances a few meters from the house of Ramón Rivas, a Dominican who 15 years ago made his home with Rosa, a Haitian who crossed the bridge to do domestic work. The binational couple, one of many on the border, settled in a neighborhood on the banks of the Massacre River, which divides both nations and will be separated by the first stage of the wall with 54 kilometers built. “Some say no, that this is nonsense. But for many people it is very strong protection, security. I don’t have animals, but I feel safer, the more protected the border will be with what our president is doing,” comments Rivas.
The Dominican spends his days among the military who guard the construction of the wall and who are customers of his small neighborhood sale. According to him, the military presence gives greater security to a community that was previously a crossing point for illegal merchandise. “If President Abinader orders this wall to be built, for the country, for the world, it is something that is being seen that it is to protect the citizenry,” he added.
Saturné Alex is a Haitian who lives on the same block as Rivas, but his house and that of other neighbors got in the way of construction and was demolished. Alex denounces that the rest of the neighbors were compensated by the Dominican Government, except him.
“I cannot buy a visa or residence in such a short time. I am illegal, it is true, even if I have a passport, my residence is missing to receive money. I go through a lot of calamity,” he commented while showing the remains of what was his home . While she waits for an answer, every afternoon she visits the rubble where the construction of the border wall is progressing. But human rights organizations in Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo denounce that the building could provoke more xenophobia and racism.
“The wall also has the advantage that it will prevent motorcycle and vehicle traffic, and the issue of drug trafficking. It is not discriminatory, each country has the right to take care of its border, the United States has done it, why don’t we ?”, the mayor of Dajabón, Santiago Riverón, told France 24. Although Riverón supports the idea of reinforcing security on the common border, he believes that one solution is to build an “economic wall”, creating more companies in the area to reduce crime.
The Haitians consulted were in favor of the construction of the border wall as long as it does not affect or limit their commercial or labor activities in the Dominican Republic, something so far uncertain. While in Haiti the idea of a foreign military intervention gains strength due to the increase in violence and the territorial control of the gangs, in the Dominican Republic the authorities are advancing in the construction of the second stage of the border wall, which will mark a before and after in the history of both nations.
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