Thousands of Haitians and people of Haitian descent have fled the Dominican Republic in recent weeks, and many of them have not gone far.
People like Elissene Jean Louis and his family have been setting up flimsy homes along Haiti’s side of the border on the island of Hispaniola, building shacks with bed sheets, tree branches, cardboard or whatever else they can find.
The growing encampments, which lack water, electricity or other services, are starting to resemble the squalid settlements that emerged following the devastating January 2010 earthquake, though they remain far smaller. Boys play soccer in the dust and families dry clothes on the old wires and wooden posts of a rickety fence near the border across from the Dominican town of Pedernales.
The camps along the border started to grow after June 17, the deadline in the Dominican Republic to apply for legal residency under a new program that the Dominican government said was intended to bring order to the unchecked flow of migrants in the country.
More than 288,000 people applied for residency in the Dominican Republic and so far, about 25,000 have received their documents to stay and work there and another 40,000 have been approved.
The Dominican government says 66,000 people have returned to Haiti since the deadline. Many of them could not qualify for residency because they didn’t meet the requirements. Others say they have felt increasing hostility in the Dominican Republic toward people from Haiti.
At points along the line separating the countries, the migrants who left peer back at the country they once called home, behind the metal gates manned by Dominican border guards.
In Anse-a-Pitre, 28-year-old Molene Charles, told journalists that she had worked as a street vendor in the Dominican Republic for 14 years but fled her home with her family of five after being threatened by locals. Later, her husband, Jean Louis, said he returned to find their home had been burned to the ground.
Now, they and their four children live with hundreds of other families in Anse-a-Pitre, a low-lying, arid area just west of Pedernales. There are now about 700 families living here.
The people in the camp were desperately poor when they arrived and they are now cut off from the jobs that sustained them in the Dominican Republic. They are receiving food, clothing and other assistance from the Catholic Church and other charities, but little from their government, which has warned that the camps are becoming a crisis and has threatened to remove at least some of the people. Those in the camps, however, say they have nowhere else to go.
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