At least four informal settlements of refugees have sprung up in the area around Anse-à-Pitres, a little over a mile northwest of the border. Two of the settlements, Parc Cadeau 1 and 2, now quarter nearly 4,000 refugees, many of whom used to be vendors at the market. They were born to Haitian parents, or had Haitian grandparents, but had lived east of the border all their lives. They cut sugar cane, worked construction, sharecropped Dominican fields, or tended cows and goats in the foothills. Now their fields are deserted, their cattle stolen, their jobs abandoned, and for the first time, they live west of Rio Pedernales, in extreme poverty.
“We are suffering calamity,” Annette Jeudy told us in perfect Spanish, which she learned growing up in the Dominican Republic. (Her Haitian-born parents spoke Creole.) Like most of the refugees in Parc Cadeau, she arrived just before the regularization deadline expired last June. In the language of the Dominican government, Jeudy “self-deported.” It was fear that drove Haitian Dominicans like Jeudy from their homes in Baoruco Province north of Pedernales. And despite nearly unlivable conditions, it’s fear that keeps them from going back.
“Those people want to burn us alive,” Eliseo Jean Louis told us, “I wouldn’t go back even if they let me. ... There is no law up in the mountains.” A few Parc Cadeau residents standing nearby nodded in agreement. The remote towns they fled lack basic utilities, let alone law enforcement. Many people we spoke with had stories about threats from Dominican hooligans—tigueres, they’re called—usually involving a machete or handgun, and tough talk about a sequel to the Parsley Massacre.
When we visited the Parc Cadeau camps last December, hunger was visible. Malnutrition had turned children’s hair blonde. Bellies were swollen from protein deficiency. Drinking water was opaque. The encampment had far too few latrines for its population, and there was no waste management to speak of. Last November, 13 residents died of cholera, most of them children.
Without documentation, the refugees find themselves in a double bind. Language barriers and resource scarcity keep them from settling west of the border. Bureaucracy and intimidation keep them from returning to the Dominican Republic. Meanwhile the Haitian government, such as it is, has failed to accommodate them.
So they wait in limbo, in coops of tarp and corrugated tin.
Back in Santo Domingo, we spoke with government officials, activists, taxi drivers, artists, old money, drunks, teenagers, their parents, and grandparents. After learning why we’d come to the island—to see the material conditions on the border—a few people spoke passionately from one side or another, but most carried on in abstractions, as if the crisis was somewhere far away. Even the island’s most progressive news outlet, Acento.com, neglected to mention the situation in its roundup of last year’s political scandals.
Standing outside a bar in the colonial zone, fashion designer Ana Granata put it bluntly: “Few people care about this problem here in the capital.”
Clearly immigration issues in the Dominican Republic are different from those on the ballot in Europe, which in turn are different from those in the United States. But as a case study of applied nativism, the country demonstrates the consequences of xenophobic policy, and how ordinary, well-meaning people in a modern democracy learn to accept them.