Most of Abandoned Children’s Fund‘s financial support to projects worldwide is pre-scheduled and transferred quarterly for practical reasons. Occasionally we need to respond to immediate needs that call for emergency action and the unfolding crisis in the Caribbean is just such an emergency. We have been involved this last week responding to requests for immediate food assistance from one of our partners in Haiti to help with a development that may have escaped your notice but is of grave concern for the wellbeing of countless vulnerable children and families.
You may have heard about new tensions emerging between the Dominican Republic and Haiti in recent news reports. These are both nations Abandoned Children’s Fund has been investing resources in for many years. A brief review of my postings on this blog will reveal stories about a couple of my previous visits to Haiti around the time of the Earthquake and subsequent visits. These humanitarian traumas don’t usually happen in a vacuum. The conflicted history of relations between the two Sovereign Caribbean nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic (who co-habit the Island of Hispaniola) goes back more than 150 years.
The differences between the former Spanish colony (presently Spanish speaking Caucasian population) of Dominican Republic and the former French colony (presently Creole speaking Negro population) of Haiti are stark. While the Dominican Republic is poor by any standards, Haiti is the most abjectly impoverished location in the western hemisphere. The border is drawn roughly north and south along highland range in the interior of the island and separates the two population groups. The borderline between these countries is clearly revealed in these photos which show the barrenness and deforestation on the Haitian side of the border compared with the relatively healthy tropical growth on the DR side.
Recently, emotions and accusations have heated up once again over the long and contentious issue of the citizenship status of second and third generation, undocumented, Haitian migrants, who have taken residence in the Dominican Republic (in some cases for decades) seeking refuge from starvation and unemployment at home in the less poverty stricken Dominican Republic. Uncertain estimates of the number of Haitian immigrants living in the Dominican Republic range from 400,000 to 700,000.
In a Dominican Republic Supreme Court decision in 2013 it was held that children born to undocumented Haitian immigrants are not entitled to a naturalized Dominican Republic citizenship simply because they were born on Dominican Republic soil. The consequences of this decision have set off a tidal wave of political and social comment in Haiti and throughout the region. While many in the Dominican Republic have grown impatient with government inaction and demanded for even stronger immigration measures to be taken to protect national sovereignty and rid the country of hundreds of thousands of unwelcome Haitians, other regional Caribbean neighbors and fellow members of the Organization of American States (OAS) accuse the Dominican Republic government of initiating a fundamentally racist motivated deportation policy.
Some OAS member states argue this 2013 Court Decision is unjust and will cause great suffering if families are uprooted and deported back to Haiti. Charges by the Haitian of racial and economic discrimination have also fueled the increasingly hostile discussions at meetings on the subject at UNHCFR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). The Board of Directors at Abandoned Children’s Fund take no position in disputes like this, realizing the issues are historic, too complex and outside of our expertise. Our focus is on doing what we can to alleviate the suffering of those caught in these terrible and heartbreaking circumstances.
Tensions have been mounting between these two positions since the Court decision and the Dominican Republic established a deadline (mid-June 2015) for Haitian immigrants to acquire the necessary documents to prove their Dominican Republic citizenship or return to Haiti. Of course the bureaucratic hurdles to be navigated were such that few bothered to even try. During the first quarter of 2015 it is reported that 40,000 undocumented Haitians have been seized under a policy known as “The Shield” and deported to Haiti. That combined with recent official warnings and public pronouncements in the Dominican Republic served to intensify immigrant fears and suspicions that the government was preparing to marshal large scale organized sweeps of Haitian refugee communities, rounding up everyone for forced deportation.
The Haitian fears associated with a large scale, forced government deportation program are that in the scope and confusion, dislocations of families would occur and family members (with no means of communication or network of connections back in Haiti) would never be able to reunite with separated children or lost family members. These fears have motivated tens of thousands of Haitians to reluctantly remove themselves from the Dominican Republic, leaving behind in some cases decades of accumulated property, job opportunities and what little they have of any network of family and friend relationships.
On the Haitian side of the border there is another chapter (in a long and baneful history) being written of misfortune, hardship and misery as more dislocated and impoverished deportees, many of whom have never lived in Haiti or set eyes on it, are arriving by the tens of thousands with nowhere to go and no provision for their food, shelter, health, education or future. The Haitian government announced it was prepared to accept and process up to 30,000 deportees but some estimate the numbers may prove in time to be 10 times that number.
Those who are aware of the seemingly endless parade of human suffering that befalls this Island and particularly the Haitian people can only shake their head and brace themselves for this next round of chaos and exploitation. Abandoned Children’s Fund has been active in both the Dominican Republic and Haiti since our inception in 2007. While Abandoned Children’s Fund has no illusions about quick fixes or solutions to this failed state of existence, we do have dedicated, experienced, tested partnerships with hard working people committed to feeding, educating and providing medical health to thousands of Haitian children and families in the areas they occupy.
As this latest episode has unfolded it has created an immediate need for available distributable nourishment for families suddenly on the move. We have received an urgent cry for help from our friends in Haiti and responded by making arrangements to accept a food donation from a bulk food provider and pay the cost of shipping a quarter million highly nutritious protein based meals into the waiting hands of a project partner we have worked with before in Haiti, to see to it that hungry children get fed. The wheels are now in motion to pass a container of food through Haitian customs and get the meals into the mouths of children and families.
The video below was taken by Abandoned Children’s Fund’s partner in Haiti and gives you a very brief image of the scope of the need they are facing. We are grateful to you for being part of providing the means through your donations to be able to coordinate a response to this developing emergency. Without your generous support, who knows what would happen to these thousands of displaced families.