Report from the Haiti/Dominican Republic Border: For children, “stateless” means homeless, vulnerable

Take action today! Click here to tell Secretary Kerry to suspend miliary aid to the Dominican Republic until it stops deporting people of Haitian descent.

In June 2016, Michael Kourabas, UUSC Associate Director for Program and Partner Support, traveled to Belladère, Haiti, just inside the border with the Dominican Republic.  He and Kathleen McTigue, Director of the UU College of Social Justice, went there because this summer is a time of crisis for hundreds of thousands of residents of the Dominican Republic (D.R.), many of them children.

The crisis is the result of what’s been called la sentencia, a 2013 Dominican Constitutional Court ruling revoking citizenship for anyone who cannot provide proof of legal access into the country for their ancestors – even for Haitian-Dominicans born there – dating back to 1929. It’s a draconian, discriminatory law designed specifically to forcibly remove people of Haitian descent, and it’s enforced by Dominican border guards – police and military personnel – whose training is supported by foreign aid from the United States. Dominican police and military routinely have been selecting people they assume to be Haitian (i.e. profiled because of their darker skin), sending them to detention camps without access to food or sanitation facilities, and – without notifying family members – deporting them to Haiti, a country these individuals never called home, and which is not equipped to provide for even their most basic needs once they arrive. It’s a human rights disaster that is unfolding right before our eyes.

UUSC became involved in human rights work on the island of Hispaniola following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed 160,000 people and left 1.5 million more homeless. Our partner organization, Zanmi Timoun (“Friends of Children”), was providing humanitarian relief to earthquake survivors and had been helping abused and enslaved children in Haiti since 2001. Through our collaboration, we learned of the persistent discrimination against people of Haitian descent in the D.R., and the impending effects of la sentencia. With new support from UUSC, Zanmi Timoun began providing humanitarian aid to children caught in these mass deportations, helping them reunite with their parents, and working with Haitian government agencies to repatriate unaccompanied children.

Last month’s visit to the Haitian-Dominican border is the third UUSC on-the-ground assessment during the past year. What they found was not encouraging. Children – the most vulnerable among tens of thousands of deportees – remain at risk of arriving in Haiti with minimal – if any – access to food, clothing, shelter, or bathing facilities. Already, cholera has been reported at some border crossings.

According to Michael, “When we arrived at the border, we noticed a Haitian Red Cross van leaving the official border crossing and heading to the Haiti Office National de la Migration (ONM) building, where Zanmi Timoun works alongside ONM to receive and document deportees. Ultimately, two vans would transport about 10 young men who had just been deported from the D.R. As soon as they were registered by Zanmi Timoun and ONM, we were told the young men snuck back into the DR using an ‘unofficial’ border crossing.”

Had these deportees been minors, they would have faced an even graver situation. “In May, the government locked the Brigade for the Protection of Minors (BPM) building, which Zanmi Timoun had been using to assist recently deported minors,” Michael explained. “Unfortunately, Zanmi Timoun’s supplies remain locked in the BPM building, so they do not even have sanitary kits to give to deportees.” Much needs to be done.

Since 1974, U.S. military aid has been suspended to at least 11 countries for human rights violations. It’s time for us to stop being complicit and to increase pressure on the Dominican Republic to restore citizenship to people of Haitian descent.

Because government policies in the D.R. are at the root of this crisis, UUSC believes taking action to stop these deportations is an important first step. That is why we are calling on our supporters to sign a petition to Secretary of State John Kerry demanding that the U.S. stop providing financial assistance to the D.R. military until it agrees to end this blatant violation of human rights. It’s an action the United States has taken before; since 1974, U.S. military aid has been suspended to at least 11 countries for human rights violations. It’s time for us to stop being complicit and to increase pressure on the D.R. to restore citizenship to people of Haitian descent.

Pamela Sparr, Associate Director for UUSC’s Justice Building Programs, sums up the challenge before us. “In crises like these, when the very survival of vulnerable children is at stake, it is important for our country to do something on their behalf. Demanding that we stop providing aid to a military force that is abusing children as a matter of government policy is only the first of many things that need to be done. Challenging the forced removal of Haitian-Dominicans is an important first step, but even after we succeed in this task, we must continue our work to ensure the human rights of children in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.”

Soap Can Save Lives

As we approach World Water Day on March 22, we’re contemplating the vital roles that clean water and adequate sanitation play in the health of people throughout the world. UUSC works to advance the human right to water every day with partners throughout the world. Clean water, access to proper sanitation, and even something as seemingly simple as soap — these things save lives.

First, a few facts we learned from U.N. Water:

  • “Today 2.5 billion people, including almost one billion children, live without even basic sanitation. Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of poor sanitation. That’s 1.5 million preventable deaths each year.” (World Water Development Report 2012)
  • “Globally, diarrhoea is the leading cause of illness and death, and 88 per cent of diarrhoeal deaths are due to a lack of access to sanitation facilities, together with inadequate availability of water for hygiene and unsafe drinking water.” (U.N. Joint Monitoring Programme)
  • “Washing hands with soap can reduce the risk of diarrheal diseases by up to 47 per cent.” (World Health Organization)

These are just some of the reasons that we’re excited to feature Hand in Hand, a sustainable soap company, at the Good Buy. For each Hand in Hand product you buy, they donate one bar of soap and one month of clean water to a child in the Global South.

Bill and Courtney, the founders of Hand in Hand, explain: “The goal was to come up with a household product people use every day, that had the power to save lives.” Plus, they make sure that the creation of their soaps isn’t wrecking the environment or taking advantage of workers and producers along the way. And your Good Buy purchase helps fund UUSC’s human rights programs around the world!

When you take all of that into account, it seems frivolous to talk about how great the actual soap is — but we can’t help but mention the awesome varieties (our favorites: wildflower and fern and sea salt) and the soothing, organic goodness.

This World Water Day, we’re feeling grateful that businesses like Hand in Hand exist. Because changing those stats up above is going take the actions of people — and businesses — who care deeply about people having access to clean water, to soap, and to the tools everyone deserves to keep themselves healthy. Since a child dies every 20 seconds due to poor sanitation, take your next 20 seconds to help save lives by buying Hand in Hand soap.

Rights Reading

Immigration, Deportation, and Environmental Racism

This is the first installment of our new weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

1. “In Exile,” by Jonathan M. Katz, the New York Times Magazine

“As international attention turned away, however, people of Haitian descent quietly began crossing Hispaniola’s divide. In some cases, they were removed by Dominican troops and immigration patrols, which have officially deported 14,000 people since the June deadline, according to the Dominican government. But far more have left on their own — some 70,000, according to the Dominican Republic’s director general of immigration. They have become voluntary migrants of the least voluntary sort, fleeing an atmosphere of fear and confusion created by ever-shifting laws, vague threats, byzantine registration programs and spasms of racial violence.”

An excellently reported deep dive into a mostly ignored crisis at the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. People of Haitian descent are being driven out of the Dominican Republic, many into a country they have never known, with no shelter, resources, or clear future. We’re working with Zanmi Timoun, a Haitian grassroots organization, to ensure that deported children can find refuge, safety, and healing. We’re focusing our efforts in the border villages of Belladère and Fond Parisien with special attention to the needs of unaccompanied children, newborns, orphans, children with disabilities, and teenage mothers.

2. “How the System Is Failing Central American Families Facing Deportation,” by Max Rivlin-Nadler, VICE News

“The families removed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had, for the most part, fled worsening violence in Central America within the last two years, and upon deportation to their homeland now face the prospects of continued persecution.”

A good overview of the sad state of immigration. Families seeking safe refuge in the United States face detention in unacceptable conditions (check out our No Safe Haven Here report), confusing legal processes, and continuous fear of deportation back to the violence they are trying to escape. This article features RAICES, our partner in Texas that is working to support families seeking asylum and facing deportation.

3. “A Question of Environmental Racism in Flint,” by John Eligon, the New York Times

“If Flint were rich and mostly white, would Michigan’s state government have responded more quickly and aggressively to complaints about its lead-polluted water?”

Our guess: probably. It wouldn’t surprise us; we see systemic racism affect people’s right to the water every day throughout the world and throughout the United States. And we work with communities — including in Michigan, where we work with the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization to stop water shutoffs affecting low-income communities of color — to defend their right to accessible, affordable, sufficient, and acceptable (read: safe) water for daily human needs. (See also: The Color of Water, by our partner Mass Global Action, which found that with each 1% increase in a Boston city ward’s population of people of color, the number of threatened water shutoffs increased by 4%.) 

2015 Highlights

Thanks to the support of advocates for justice like you, UUSC has relentlessly pursued justice and the advancement of a host of human rights over the past year. UUSC partners with locally led grassroots organizations that have deep connections to individuals and communities facing vast violations of their rights due to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, refugee status, and other aspects of who they are. Together, UUSC and these partners work to end entrenched systemic inequality and social, political, and economic exclusion, often in the midst of rapidly evolving humanitarian crises.

Check out our 2015 highlights below and please make a gift to ensure this work continues in 2016! You can also peruse our 2015 annual report online [PDF]. 

Promoting economic justice

  • Supported national day of action in solidarity with Darden restaurant workers by rallying local ministers and UU advocacy networks in California and Maryland 
  • Filed a shareholder resolution at Darden that would require greater transparency and accountability concerning Darden’s political spending at local, state, and federal levels
  • Benefitted 5,000 people directly and 15,000 people indirectly, all in the informal economy, through leadership development, capacity building, and awareness raising about the rights of people with disabilities
  • Supported the creation and distribution of a comic book to educate youth and adults about food chain workers
  • Supported training for 500 restaurant workers, an expanded network of 200 responsible restaurant employers, and three new training facilities for U.S. restaurant workers
  • Initiated series of trainings that will each empower 36 workers to advocate for the Good Food Purchasing Policy, which benefits low-income students and senior citizens
  • Petitioned the Darden restaurant group, pressuring them to adopt the Good Food Purchasing Policy principles in their food procurement

Protecting rights at risk

  • Responding to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe
  • Partnered with the Trauma Resource Institute (TRI) to train nearly 900 people in the Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan in teaching and leading more than 5,000 others in trauma resiliency skills
  • Trained agrarian reform communities in the Philippines on organic farming and livestock raising
  • Completed construction of a sixth eco-village in Haiti as well as the first phase of a school for children of the eco-villages
  • Continued supporting the Urban Food Gardens project in Haiti, which trained another 140 families to build food gardens
  • Celebrated the passage of the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act into law and gathered more than 800 supporter signatures for a thank-you to legislators
  • With more than 4,500 UUSC supporters, petitioned the Obama administration to release asylum-seeking children and their mothers from immigration detention and worked with partners to support these families
  • Provided assessment and services to 400 people with disabilities affected by Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu and ensured that disabled citizens had equitable access to relief materials
  • Provided temporary classrooms and supplies to enable 2,300 students to return to school following the Nepal earthquake
  • Mobilized community-based volunteers in Nepal to assist earthquake-affected communities, reaching 15 districts, 112 communities, and 23,271 households
  • In partnership with TRI, trained 92 frontline service providers in Nepal with the capacity to assist over 13,000 survivors with psychosocial support
  • Supported 200 farmers in Northern Shan state in Myanmar, also known as Burma, through a credit union project that reached 5,000 community member beneficiaries
  • Provided Rohingya refugee communities in Thailand with shelter, access to education, and other emergency support
  • Together with TRI in Turkey, trained nongovernmental organization workers in trauma resiliency skills to assist Syrian refugees, with an expected 800 beneficiaries
  • Supported a local foundation and community shelter in Burundi that provided assistance to women and children during the violence that erupted before the June elections
  • Working in tandem with the UU College of Social Justice, organized 17 volunteers who spent up to 1,880 hours assisting asylum-seeking families with a partner in Texas

Defending the human right to water

  • Participated in hearings on the human right to water held by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 
  • Facilitated a fact-finding visit to Detroit, Mich., by the U.N. special rapporteurs on the human rights to water and housing, with visits to families affected by water shutoffs
  • Supported a legal case in which the Mexican court ruled the city and country are required to fully implement the human right to water
  • Advocated for water affordability in Boston, Mass., where Mayor Marty Walsh announced a 30% discount on water rates for low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities
  • Participated in first-ever consultation on human rights and the environment held by the U.S. government and attended by several federal agencies
  • Organized more than 1,400 UUSC supporters to contact President Obama and urge him to veto approval of the Keystone XL pipeline

Responding to climate change

  • Collaborated with seven other organizations to form Commit2Respond, a coalition of people of faith and conscience taking action for climate justice
  • Raised more than $17,000 during Climate Justice Sunday to help communities in California and Kenya protect their human right to water
  • Took part in Commit2Respond’s Climate Justice Month, which succeeded in getting 3,200 individuals and more than 170 organizations and faith communities to join Commit2Respond 

Facilitating transformative learning through the UU College of Social Justice

  • Conducted a total of 15 journeys — grounded in worship, study, and reflection — for congregations and individuals to Haiti, India, Mexico, and U.S. destinations, with 166 participants
  • Engaged 90 youth participants in Activate justice trainings for high school age students, including a program focused on climate justice
  • Adapted service-learning programs for youth groups in New York and at the U.S.-Mexico border
  • Placed 12 college-age young adults with justice organizations through an internship program, including four in India 

Partner Profile: Zanmi Timoun

In any humanitarian crisis, UUSC keeps an eye out for the people who are being overlooked, ignored, and exploited. Too often, those people are children. So when the government of the Dominican Republic, in a move fueled by deep-seated racism, revoked the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian descent and recently began deportations in earnest, UUSC turned to Zanmi Timoun (Friends of the Children), a longstanding partner in Haiti. UUSC and Zanmi Timoun are working together to ensure that deported children can find refuge, safety, and healing.

Founded in 2001, Zanmi Timoun advocates for, raises awareness of, and supports vulnerable youth in Haiti, especially those caught in the restavek system (child slavery). UUSC began working with Zanmi Timoun in the wake of the 2010 earthquake to provide care and protection for child survivors, including many who lost one or two parents in the earthquake and faced significant risk of trafficking and other forms of exploitation.

Youth face a number of serious challenges in Haiti after being deported from the Dominican Republic — or fleeing from the harassment and racially motivated violence that accompanies the deportations. No clear systems are in place to receive returnees in the border villages, and most children have no identification. Shelter is scarce, and returnees must lease accommodations at a price that is prohibitive for many families, let alone unaccompanied children. On top of that, returning children — most often traumatized and malnourished — endure a lack of health resources and a dearth of the special care that children need to survive and thrive.

With these challenges in mind, UUSC is working with Zanmi Timoun to create a strong presence in the border villages of Belladère and Fond Parisien with special attention to the needs of unaccompanied children, newborns, orphans, children with disabilities, and teenage mothers. To this end, Zamni Timoun is undertaking the following:

  • Developing a registration process for returning children
  • Training border monitoring committees and creating child protection committees
  • Creating a recreational area and providing psychosocial support for traumatized youth
  • Working to reunify deported children with family members in Haiti
  • Meeting with local authorities and other community organizations to raise awareness of children’s struggles, rights, and needs in the midst of the deportation crisis

Zanmi Timoun has a track record of success that bodes well for these new endeavors. In their work supporting youth of all ages in all 10 departments of the country of Haiti, they have reintegrated 500 children who have been in restavek back into their families of origin. Zanmi Timoun runs two vocational centers that offer professional training, human rights education, and psychosocial services for youth within, or emerging from, restavek. More than 350 young women and men have learned skills in plumbing, sewing and batik, electricity, graphic design, and commercial baking. Not only that, Zanmi Timoun operates five community schools that serve more than 300 children each year.

Guylande Mesadieu, the coordinator and founder of Zanmi Timoun as well as a trained community organizer and lawyer who specializes in the rights of children and women, makes sure that the work doesn’t end with the provision of services. One of Zanmi Timoun’s priorities is advocating on national and international levels for stronger laws and policies to protect children and ensure their access to human rights. This helps push children’s rights forward on the structural scale — toward a future where no child will need to worry about being forced from the homes and communities they know and love. 

Act Now: Crisis on the Haitian Border

A massive crisis, fueled by racism, is unfolding along the Haitian border, and it just kicked into high gear. Now it's up to moral activists like you and me to raise awareness and stop it.

Tell Secretary of State John Kerry to push the Dominican Republic to halt any and all forced deportations of people of Haitian descent.

As you may know, Haiti and the Dominican Republic (DR) share an island. Nearly a million people of Haitian descent, most of them black, live on the Dominican Republic side. Many were born there, and until recently they had birthright citizenship just like any other Dominican.

But the Dominican government has chosen to erase the citizenship of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent and put plans in motion to force nearly all people with Haitian heritage to leave the DR. And late last week, after an announced pause, the Dominican government announced the beginning of deportations in earnest.

Imagine if the U.S. government revoked the citizenship of every Latino in our country — including U.S. citizens born right here — and forced them back to the countries where their parents or grandparents were born. Every Latino business owner, teacher, nurse, student, and child.

It's absurd. And it's happening in the Dominican Republic, right now.

The government's actions have fueled racist violence, and even before this round of deportations approximately 66,000 people had already crossed into Haiti — taking shelter in makeshift camps. Haiti is still rebuilding from a devastating earthquake, and these people face hunger, unemployment, homelessness, and being separated from their loved ones back in the DR. If the government continues to follow through on its deportation plans, hundreds of thousands more will be forced from their homes.

This racist targeting is a moral outrage, and we must act before the situation gets any worse.

So far, despite wielding huge influence in the DR, the U.S. government has not done enough to stop this human rights disaster. Secretary Kerry can — and should — intensify efforts to convince the Dominican government to put the brakes on this crisis.

Tell Secretary Kerry: Make this a top U.S. human rights priority before it gets any worse, by calling on the DR to stop the deportations immediately.

I don't always think the U.S. government should intervene in other nations' affairs, but the racist motivations behind this plan and the scale of the humanitarian crisis are so stark, I can't help but call on U.S. officials — and you — to help stop this now.

Thank you for always making time to act on your values.