Dajabón, Dominican Republic, Sept 20 (EFE).- Thousands of Haitians have been leaving the Dominican Republic every day since President Luis Abinader closed the border in order to force Haiti to stop the construction of a canal that will divert water from the Masacre River that divides the two nations.
The sea, air and land borders are closed, and border crossings only allow Haitian citizens residing legally or illegally in the Dominican Republic to return to their home country.
Dominican authorities have not provided official figures on the exodus, but unofficial sources told EFE that Dajabón has been the main exit point since the border blockade was declared.
On Saturday, one day after the measure was implemented, some 5,000 people crossed through this crossing alone, while the crossings at Elías Piña, Jimaní and Pedernales have not seen as many returnees. According to the sources, between 1,000 and 1,500 people have been leaving per day since then.
Under normal circumstances, this would not be an unusual figure, since in Dajabón there is a significant movement of people who cross the border from Haiti and return the same day, but in the current situation these are people who have lived in the Dominican Republic for a long time and are returning to their country with all their belongings.
A VOLUNTARY BUT FORCED RETURN
From the early hours of the morning, as EFE was able to verify, immigrants began to gather in a corner of the border gate, loaded with all kinds of packages, waiting for the occasional openings of the border, which initially occurred only twice a day, at 12:00 and 4:00.
Faced with the masses of people waiting under the scorching sun, including small children, the border authorities decided to open the border for a few minutes at a time every time a few dozen people gather. The authorities then line them up, and allow them to cross the bridge over the Massacre River.
Many of them are returning after years of living in the Dominican Republic, forced by the measures resulting from the water conflict.
EFE spoke to Clotilde, one of the few who agreed to speak to reporters, who has lived in the Dominican Republic for 30 years and made a living from street vending.
“I can’t sell anything now, so I’m going home,” she said.
“If things are good, I go back, but if there is no life, I stay,” said the woman.
Others who are leaving the country denounce the harassment they feel as Haitians.
A man nicknamed “el Blanco” (Whitey) told EFE with indignation that he has been living in Dominican territory since 2009 and has made a life for himself there.
“But I’ve had enough. They came to steal everything I had. At four in the morning they broke into my house to steal everything of value.”
When asked who did it, he replied: “Say it was a group of thieves, say it was the immigration authorities.”
“You get tired of this group of thieves, of being mistreated,” he said. “So I leave and stay in my country. I can rent a house there for a year and no one will come to check my house and open the door,” he added.
NO OFFICIAL FIGURES
In addition to those who leave voluntarily, there are also the undocumented Haitian citizens who are deported by the General Directorate of Migration.
This institution periodically reports the number of forced returnees who are taken to the border crossings in buses or trucks, but have not responded to EFE’s requests for the number of people who have crossed the Dominican-Haitian border since the closure went into effect.
The closure of the border is just one of the measures ordered by Abinader in connection with the construction of the irrigation canal. He also ordered the suspension of the issuance of visas to Haitian citizens and the permanent ban on entering the country for “all those involved in the conflict.”
The Haitian government has maintained that it cannot stop the construction of the canal because it is a private enterprise.
Furthermore, Haiti maintains its willingness to engage in dialogue to resolve the conflict and defends that it has a right to use the waters of the river by virtue of the 1929 Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Arbitration.
The Dominican government bases its claim of illegality on the same treaty.EFE