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Newsreel No. 35 : Haitian migrants at risk- Dominican Republic, Chili

As of this writing, there is tension in the city of Pedernales in the Dominican Republic where residents of Haitian descent have been given an ultimatum by their Dominican neighbors to leave the town within 24 hours or face retaliation. The Mayor, Luis Manuel Feliz, confirmed this to the media and added that he called on President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to intervene by sending the National Guard to quell any potential confrontation that could be bloody. The Mayor confirmed that two Haitians who were attacked have been rushed to the hospital. The source of the xenophobic unrests came about after a farming couple, Julio Reyes Pérez and Neiba Féliz Urbáez were attacked by criminals and the Dominicans suspected the criminals to be of Haitian descent. Another death, that of a young 26 year old Dominican, Turbi Diaz, whose lifeless body was dumped at the municipal dumpsite in Oviedo. Calls for justice for the victims have been mounting recent days culminating into what has been a xenophobic call to expel Haitians in the town. As of this morning, many Haitian natives, with their belongings and children in tow, have begun the journey back to Haiti as they cross the border to Anse-à-Pitres, to avoid revenge killings from their Dominican neighbors. The government has since dispatched an elite force to the town to quell any confrontations.

If the Dominican Republic is proving xenophobic, the next destination for Haitians, Chile, has recently also caught the bug, as more and more calls to reduce or stop Haitian migration altogether to the South American country is gaining ground. There have been racist postings on social media while at the same time, Chileans are calling on their government to change its immigration policy toward Haitians, as seen in a documentary by the Chilean journalist Soy Leyton who accused the government of “laxity” in the face of the “invasion” by Haitian migrants. Subsequently, between March 2nd and 5th, 2018; the security forces refused entry to 239 Haitian migrants who were accused of possessing false travel and residency documents, or provided false information regarding their accommodation. The authorities explained that deportation is a normal procedure when a person does not meet the requirements set by the immigration act.  Similarly, an airline that links Santiago de Chile to Port-au-Prince has recently suspended services between the two capital cities for 15 days, from March 5, 2018 through March 20, 2018.  The flyer, Latin American Wings (LAW) said to have halted services in response to the increasing number of Haitians who are being returned and not allowed into Chilean soil, through the Arturo Merino Benitez airport. LAW is said to be determined to minimize the impact of the decision on its passengers. More and more, young Haitians are leaving the island nation for Chile, Brazil and Argentina, among others, in search of a better life. According to statistics, more than 150,000 Haitians have arrived in Chile since 2016 as “tourists” and more than 120,000 have overstayed their authorized ninety day tourist stay; prompting local lawmakers to now demand visa for Haitian nationals entering Chile.

With Chile changing governments, moving rightwards, there is the expectation that immigration policy towards Haitians will change for the worse. The new President, Sebastian Piñera, is expected to meet with the Haitian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antonio Rodrigue, to discuss issues of mutual interest to the two countries, especially the memorandum of understanding between the two countries before the new immigration law of Chile is passed.

In Haiti, a nationwide strike of Customs Officials is now in its second week with no end in sight. Negotiations has stalled after 7 days of strike, authorities are concerned about the demands and the actions of the customs officials.  Secretary of State for Finance, Ronald Décembre, decries what he considers the intransigence of strikers who failed to attend a meeting called at the Prime Minister’s office, by the Minister of Finance, Patrice Salomon. The negotiations are considered a dialogue of the deaf, with both parties rejecting responsibility for the stalemate. The spokesman for the striking Customs officials argued that the Minister of Finance is divested of the issue since he transferred the documents on special status to the Prime Minister. Mr. Décembre, for his part argues that the strike action is not justified since  the special status that the striking workers are calling for will go into effect in October, as such they strike action is just taking the country hostage. The administration has stated that they can take strong measures to bring the situation back under control. Some eight (8) textile firms have closed their doors as the strike action is impacting their operations. Meanwhile customs activities have resumed at the Port-au-Prince airport. The one week strike has cost the government some US$10million.

Finally, the government has assured the public that there is no cause for alarm because of the rising budget deficit, which stands today at 9billion gourdes. According to the Finance Minister, Jude Alix Patrick Salomon, the deficit is not a major handicap for the economy, because experts from the IMF have been monitoring the Haitian economy for well about a month now and what was once alarming to government officials in the beginning of the year no longer frightens them. He argues that deficits are necessary for the development of the nation since other nations have been faced with deficits of up to 3% of GDP. Meanwhile the senate is on a 3 day retreat in order to jumpstart what has become an ineffective legislative session since the political division created as a result of the report on the mismanagement of the PetroCaribe funds. The retreat to be held at the Cote des Arcadins seeks to revive the moribund institution and get them to get back to legislating issues and running the country.

Dela Harlley

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