17 000 Haitians return voluntarily

2015-06-26 22:24
A young Haitian talks to a Dominican soldier as he waits to cross the border from Malpasse. (AP)

A young Haitian talks to a Dominican soldier as he waits to cross the border from Malpasse. (AP)

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Santo Domingo - More than 17 000 undocumented Haitians have voluntarily left the Dominican Republic since the end of a controversial registration process that left thousands of people facing deportation, officials said on Friday.

The Dominican Republic gave undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom are from impoverished Haiti, until June 17 to register with the authorities or face deportation.

But with documents slow to arrive from Haiti and Dominican registration offices overwhelmed by the crowds of applicants, more than 180 000 people were still unregistered by the deadline, according to the Dominican government.

Of those, 17 456 have so far left for Haiti voluntarily, said the director general of the Dominican immigration authority, Ruben Paulino.

More than 800 of them left on buses provided by the Dominican government, he said.

"We will be incentivizing the voluntary exit and return of all, right up to the last minute. When that phase is finished, we will begin non-voluntary returns," said presidential aide Jose Ramon Peralta.

Immigration officials have promised not to carry out mass deportations and say each case will be considered individually.

As of the registration deadline, more than 450 000 Haitians were estimated to live in the neighbouring Dominican Republic - 90% of its immigrants and 5.4% of the total population.

Just one in 10 had legal status.

A total of 288 000 managed to open registration files by the deadline.

The process drew international warnings that it could provoke a new humanitarian disaster in fragile Haiti, still struggling to recover from its 2010 earthquake and a cholera outbreak.

It was also criticized for leaving the Dominican-born children of Haitian immigrants effectively stateless and facing deportation to a country many of them have never known.

Relations are often strained between Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and the Dominican Republic, the comparatively wealthy neighbour with which it shares the island of Hispaniola.

Haitian immigrants have long been targets of resentment and racism in the Dominican Republic, which boiled over into the massacre of thousands of them in 1937 under the orders of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.

Read more on:    dominican republic  |  haiti

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