Human Rights Education Meets Market Day with the Help of MCC
Despite the current, anti-immigrant climate in the D.R. that seeks to vilify immigrant groups and Haitians specifically, concerned citizens are coming together - youth, human rights organizations, and churches - to accompany those most in need.
In 2013, a controversial Dominican court ruling stripped citizenship from hundreds of thousands of Dominicans who had parents or grandparents of Haitian birth. Last year, the Dominican Republic (D.R.) began deporting undocumented Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent under new, controversial immigration laws. These efforts have exacerbated already-existing tensions between the neighboring countries.
Though the Dominican government offered a regularization program for certain long-term immigrants, of which 143,000 qualified, nearly 135,000 people have either been deported to Haiti or returned spontaneously since border monitoring began in June 2015. Dominicans of Haitian ancestry have also been deported to Haiti, a country unknown to them.
In response to this crisis, MCC has worked to address the needs of deportees through
- Distributing material aid at camps for displaced people along the border,
- Launching a prayer and advocacy campaign
- Sharing testimonies of the displaced as a means of raising international awareness on the gravity of the issue.
Now, MCC is supporting a substantial human rights’ education program that seeks to prevent illegal deportations and protect communities who are more susceptible to deportation along the Haitian-Dominican border.
Through its partnership with the Dominican human rights organization, Centro Bonó, MCC saw the production of 5,000 “Know Your Rights” pamphlets. These booklets – 32 pages in length, and in both Haitian Creole and Spanish – outline what constitutes a legal versus illegal deportation and provide helpful contact information for immigrant-friendly organizations on both sides of the border.
On a market day in July, in the border town of Malpasse, pamphlet distribution began. Centro Bonó, along with its close partner the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), mobilized volunteers to engage the market day crowds. Market days occur twice a week at each of the official border crossings; Centro Bonó plans to hold distributions each market day until materials run out.
“This booklet is essential,” says Pedro Cano Olivares, a Spanish lawyer with Centro Bonó, who has worked in the Dominican border community of Jimani for four and a half years. “It offers migrants procedures to avoid arbitrary detention, basic tips when facing deportation, and knowledge of employment rights. It empowers them with essential information and helps them demand respect for their fundamental rights so they will not be violated."
Centro Bonó is an established human rights organization with a history of assisting vulnerable populations in the D.R. They have been especially active advocating for Dominicans’ and Haitians’ rights in light of the recent court ruling, which they see as inherently discriminatory. On the day of our visit, Pedro met a man who was in the process of being deported even though he had registered through the national regularization program and had documentation to prove it. The immigration authorities reportedly tore up his papers. Thankfully, Centro Bonó has access to these records online and Pedro was able to retrieve a copy from his nearby office.
Throughout the day, people could be seen in the market reading the newly printed, bright blue booklets. At kiosks labelled “The Office of Lost Rights” volunteers like Givena and Dianna spent their morning participating in the distribution. Givena, 17-years old, is president of a local youth organization called Youth for Peace at the Border (JLPF in Spanish), a group that participates in service opportunities like this one. They also run a weekly radio program that provides useful information to border communities, which include many migrants as well as first and second generation Dominicans who continue to be marginalized by laws like the 2013 court ruling.
MCC Haiti proudly continues its support of migrant populations in Haiti and the D.R. by encouraging local initiatives such as that of Centro Bono and its partners.