Dominican Republic: 600 Haitians occupy church

On Jan. 6 Dominican soldiers removed some 600 Haitian immigrants without incident from the Nuestra Senora del Rosario church in the city of Dajabon, on the northwestern border with Haiti. The immigrants had occupied the church the day before after Dominican authorities denied them permission to return from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, where they had been living and working. Following lengthy negotiations with Father Regino Martínez, the Jesuit head of the Dominican human rights group Border Solidarity, the authorities allowed 75-80 of the Haitians to stay in the Dominican Republic. Escorted by soldiers, the other immigrants—including whole families carrying their belongings on their shoulders—walked to the neighboring Haitian city of Ouanaminthe.

Father MartĂ­nez and other human rights activists had met with immigration service director Gen. JosĂ© Anibal Sanz Jiminián on Dec. 18 to tell him that 1,696 Haitian workers planned to travel home for Christmas and return in January. But Dominican authorities denied reentry to about 600 of the workers and their family members on Jan. 4 on the grounds that they lacked documents. The immigrants spent the night in the church in Ouanaminthe and entered Dajabon the next day, Monday, Jan. 5; the border is open for Dajabon’s market days on Mondays and Fridays. The immigrants then took over the Dajabon church, where they were welcomed by MartĂ­nez, who celebrated a mass with them.

MartĂ­nez said the northwestern area was now suffering a shortage of workers; undocumented Haitian immigrant are a large of the workforce in agriculture and construction. An official of the Immigration Directorate said MartĂ­nez could be charged with illegal trafficking of immigrants, but two bishops, Diomedes Espinal of the Mao-Monte Cristi diocese and auxiliary Santiago bishop Plinio Valentin Reynoso, backed the priest. (Univision, Jan. 7 from AP; Listin Diario, San Domingo, Jan. 6, 8; Prensa Latina, Jan. 7; Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, Jan. 6 from EFE, Jan. 7 from AP; Latin America Herald Tribune, Jan. 7, 8)

Dominican authorities said on Jan. 7 that they had deported 1,120 Haitians in the previous three days and had allowed at least 950 others with permits to enter the country. (LAHT, Jan. 8)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 11

See our last posts on Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the politics of immigration.