Many Haitians Leave Dominican Republic After Court Decision

A court in the Dominican Republic recently stripped many people of Haitian descent of Dominican citizenship. Linda Wertheimer talks to Jacqueline Charles, a reporter with the Miami Herald, about unrest and reports of mass deportations in the Dominican Republic.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Search and rescue missions are underway in the Bahamas, after a boat with 150 Haitian migrants onboard capsized. More than 100 people have been rescued, but dozens more are dead, and rescue workers are looking for bodies floating in the water.

Reporter Jacqueline Charles is covering the story for the Miami Herald.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Well, what we know is that they left from the northwest of Haiti, and they left on the 18th of November. So they were on the waters for at least nine days by the time this rescue operation got into full swing. And the boat itself - it's a wooden Haitian sailboat, which is just called a sloop - it ran up on a bank. And because the water is shallow, what I'm been told by officials who are familiar with the case is that they probably died because of starvation and dehydration exposure, not because they drowned.

WERTHEIMER: Meanwhile, next-door to Haiti in the Dominican Republic, some Dominicans of Haitian descent have senior citizenship put suddenly in doubt because of a Dominican court ruling. The Dominican president says there will be no mass deportations, but some Haitian-Dominicans already leaving. And there are reports of some being forcibly sent over the border.

Jacqueline Charles explains how this chain of events was set off.

CHARLES: On September 23rd, the Dominican High Court issued a ruling that says that anyone born in the Dominican Republic, whose parents were not legal at the time of their birth, that they're not entitled to citizenship. And what they did with this ruling was they made it retroactive to 1929. And what we're hearing from human rights groups and others is that the majority of the individuals who will be affected are Haitians, and it could be as many as 300,000 of them.

WERTHEIMER: Why are there so many people of Haitian descent at the Dominican Republic?

CHARLES: Well, you know, there's a long history between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, because at one point, Haiti occupied the Dominican Republic. And that is still something that Dominicans are not very comfortable with - a lot of them. But yes, you do have a situation where a number of Haitians have moved into the Dominican Republic seeking jobs, seeking opportunities. But at the same time, we hear stories over and over about deportations of Haitians out of the Dominican Republic.

And as we speak right now, there's an ongoing situation where there was an elderly couple, Dominican couple, who were killed in the border town between the DR and Haiti. And, as a result, violence broke out, and Haitians have been deported. Some Haitians are being intimidated into leaving. Some have left on their own, voluntarily.

WERTHEIMER: Is this a result of the court ruling? Are they actually being deported?

CHARLES: So, deportations of Haitians from the DR is nothing new. What's new is that it's happening in the context of this court ruling, where everybody is sort of waiting to see whether or not more Haitians will be deported, or whether Haitians will be getting on boats and trying to come to South Florida or come to the U.S. via Puerto Rico, because there is no opportunity for them in the DR. They cannot work. They cannot send their kids to school. And so there's this domino effect. Everybody's sort of holding their breath, waiting to see if that's going to happen.

WERTHEIMER: Jacqueline Charles is the Miami Herald's Caribbean correspondent. Jacqui, thank you very much.

CHARLES: Thank you for having me.

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