A group of Haitians repatriated by the Dominican migration control truck on June

Overview:

Many Haitians repatriated to Haiti acknowledge having paid large sums of money to return illegally to the Dominican Republic with the complicity of different sectors, particularly the neighboring country’s army. Dominican guards and smugglers profit from their suffering, trapping them in a relentless loop of abuse. Discover the human stories behind the numbers and how this brutal trade flourishes in the shadows.

OUANAMINTHE— Standing in sweltering heat, Roderly Saint-Vil recounts his harrowing journey. The 26-year-old Saint-Raphaël native crossed into the Dominican Republic illegally, paying exorbitant fees to border guards and taxi drivers. Like many Haitians, he sought economic refuge, only to be trapped in a cycle of border crossing, exploitation and repatriation.

“It’s been 11 months since I left my home to work in agriculture here,” Saint-Vil says, his voice edged with exhaustion.

“Undocumented migrants detained by Dominican immigration and border guards must pay bribes to secure their release,” says Harry Saint-Jean, a migrant repeatedly repatriated for violating Dominican immigration laws. Saint-Jean was repatriated again on June 18. “The guards in the province of Dajabon charge 1,000 pesos, approximately USD 19, while other areas demand 10,000 pesos USD 192 or 7,000 pesos USD 134.”

For many Haitians, the perilous journey across the northeast border with the Dominican Republic offers a fragile lifeline out of economic despair. Men, women, and children cross the dense jungles, often with the complicity of taxi drivers deeply established in the shadowy networks controlled by Dominican border guards. They spend enormous sums, sometimes up to 12,000 pesos or USD 230, for the chance to work in sectors like agriculture and construction. The reality that greets them, however, is brutal.

“I was stopped in the street on my way from work, still in my work clothes,” recounts Judeley Jean, a 22-year-old woman. “They treated me like I wasn’t human, throwing me into a van like an animal.”

Repatriated Haitians leaving the Dominican migration control truck on June 18, 2024, at the Dajabon border crossing. Photo by Edxon Francisque for The Haïtian Times

How they get into the vicious cycle

In the complex mix of desperation and exploitation, people like Saint-Vil and many others pay a heavy price. Driven by economic needs, thousands embark on perilous journeys to the Dominican Republic, lured by the promise of work and a chance to support their families. They traverse different borders not just in search of work but in a bid for dignity amid an unforgiving landscape of abuse and profiteering.

Once across the border, they endure appalling conditions and are sent back to Haïti. Despite their willingness to work hard in fields and construction sites, they are faced with hostility and exploitation. The Dominican authorities, complicit with smugglers, trap them in a brutal cycle of deception and expulsion.

In the asphyxiating confines of box trucks, Haitians are sent back to their country like animals by Dominican immigration authorities, subjected to conditions unfit for any living being. Men, women, and children—often barefoot, without shirts, and unwashed—are crammed together, left without food or water for days. The inhumane treatment they endure during these forced expulsions strips them of their dignity, as they are callously returned across the border they once crossed in search of a better life.

“They put us in smelly spaces, without mattresses or linen, there’s no water even to brush our teeth,” says one of the repatriated recently. “If you want any favor, you pay 100 pesos to the guards.”

But the suffering doesn't end with deportation. Many Haitians, like Rochenel Joseph, find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle.

“Every time I am expelled, I spend colossal sums to return,” says Joseph, a father of four. He pays these amounts to be reunited with his family in the Dominican Republic.

For those who can afford it, the journey back is facilitated by the very guards who expelled them, revealing a corrupt system profiting from human misery. This practice, deeply rooted in corruption and abuse, is denounced by many. The Dominican army’s involvement in these activities, often forcing Haitians to pay large sums to cross the border, has turned deportation into a profitable business.

Newly-repatriated Haïtians at the welcoming center at Dajabon on June 18, 2024. Photo by Edxon Francisque for The Haïtian Times

“Each time, to return to the Dominican Republic, I paid 9,000 pesos or USD 173 to the guards,” says Edgard Jean from Dondon, a commune in the Saint-Raphaël Arrondissement, in the Nord Department. He has been expelled twice in 2024 alone.

“The operation of expulsion serves as a means for Dominican border guards, especially senior officers, to increase their wealth,” says Lioguens Cherenfant.

According to Paylab, a site that provides salary insights, the monthly salaries of Dominican border guards range from 15,000 to 60,000 pesos (approximately USD 260 to USD 1,035). With these salaries, border guards find lucrative opportunities in this exploitative system. They charge repatriated and deported migrants exorbitant fees to facilitate their return, often in collusion with transport networks.

Nerline Saint-Louis, an activist from Capotille, highlights the entrenched collusion between many sectors in DR which fuels the cycle of exploitation.

“There is a network in the transport sector, in collusion with the Dominican army, which facilitates the clandestine travel of Haitians for 14,000 pesos or USD 269 per person Saint-Louis said.”

This shadow economy thrives despite the official barriers erected by the Dominican government, including a wall along much of the northeastern border.

A system profiting from misery

According to figures published by the IOM, from August 2021 to June 2024, 357,057 Haitian immigrants were expelled from countries in the region, primarily the Dominican Republic (84.86%), the United States, the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos. Of these deportees, 243,820 were men (70.1%), 70,361 were women (20.2%), and 33,624 were children (9.7%), including 14,647 girls (4.2%). In the first half of 2024 alone, 81,289 people were deported to Haiti. The Dominican Republic was responsible for 95.4% of these expulsions.

As Haitians continue to navigate these treacherous crossings, the exploitative practices of Dominican guards persist. Marc Pierre, a political activist from Ouanaminthe, condemns these extortionate demands.

“The amounts charged by border guards to Haitians who cross illegally are scandalous,” he said, drawing parallels to the extortion by gangs in Port-au-Prince.

This exploitation extends beyond extortion at the point of crossing. Border and immigration guards demand money from migrants to be released after their arrests.

Luckner Pierre-Louis, an illegal migrant deported on the same day, recounts his experience.

“They arrested me after two days. Because I didn’t have 1,000 pesos to be released, they put me in a van and sent me to Haiti.”

Despite these obstacles, the determination to seek a better life drives Haitians to return repeatedly, often at great personal and financial cost. The northeast border crossings of Ouanaminthe and Capotille, along with the province of Dajabon, remain the most frequented routes.

“Many Haitian smugglers continue to collaborate with Dominican guards, facilitating illegal passage for large sums of money,” confesses a smuggler who identifies himself as a pastor.

“It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the Dominican army started engaging in illegal trade and deportation. This abusive practice stems from various factors like corruption, abuse of power, human rights violations, and the shadow economy,” said Romain Charles, head of Renesans in Ouanaminthe.

Edxon Francisque is a seasoned professional with a diverse background in radio broadcasting. His experiences in radio diffusion include serving as a correspondent for Radio Nationale d'Haiti 105.3 FM and contributing to Radio Tele Kalalou International, an online media platform. Additionally, he has showcased his skills as a presenter for the journal Alliance Actualité at Radio Alliance Ouanaminthe.

Regarding academic pursuits, Edxon studied Economics at the State University of Haiti, demonstrating his commitment to a well-rounded education. Furthermore, he completed professional studies in journalism at the Ecole Professionnelle de Ouanaminthe in 2020. He has also engaged in communication studies at the Alliance Francaise branch in the North, annex Fort-Liberte.

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  1. I am an American living in Haiti. Most of my friends are Haitian. My wife is Haitian. We have a beautiful that carries an American passport. When I came to Haiti in 1981, Haiti was more advanced than the Dominican Republic. There were great restaurants, a huge sugar production employing roughly 50,000 people in the mill and fields. Everything was produced here. You could walk the streets day and night with no fear. When I traveled to Santo Domingo I was almost robbed twice. It is true, Haiti was run by a dictator, but with 90% of your population unfortunately that was the only thing that worked. The Dominicans came to Haiti for work. Even the prostitutes came from the Dominican Republic to get the US $. Ronald Reagan ran the dictator and immediately Haiti started falling apart. The jobs and money moved to the Dominican Republic. The US started flooding Haiti with cheaper produced food and the farmers couldn't compete so their children left Haiti to the US, Canada, and Europe. Then shipping cost caused the price of the food coming from the US caused the Haitians to start importing from the Dominican Republic. There is a river that separated Haiti from the Dominican Republic. The Dominicans built canals to water their fields. Then when the Haitians start to build a canal to water their crops the Dominicans went nuts. They knew Haiti had land that could produce their own food and the Dominicans knew they would lose a lot of business so they went up in arms. The US government is backing the Dominican Republic. WHY?

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