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FILM - Needed but Unwanted: Haitians in the Dominican Republic

Hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic are at risk of arbitrary deportation or of becoming stateless Andrew Bowley/IRIN

Hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic are at risk of arbitrary deportation or of becoming stateless. Even though many were born in the Dominican Republican or have lived there for decades, tens of thousands have either been forcibly deported or have fled the crackdown and legal uncertainty.

In this film, Producer/Director Susan Farkas tells the stories of people like Wendy Batista, a 17-year-old of Haitian descent who can't comprehend why, since he was born in the Dominican Republic and has lived there all his life, the government won't give him papers and allow him to become a citizen. Evelin Perez Matos describes how her Haitian-born husband was abruptly deported last summer, leaving her to raise six children alone. "I don't know if he'll return," she says. "I know nothing." Others, like Edowane Pierre-Paul, fled to Haiti when the Dominican Republic began clamping down on those without formal status last June and now raise their families in tents in squalid border camps. Experts say the Dominican Republic's policy amounts to a gross human rights violation, while the government says it has every right to control who is allowed to live in the country.

The history of migration and deportation between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is a long and unhappy one. In 1937, the dictatorial Dominican President Rafael Trujillo ordered the slaughter of thousands of immigrant Haitians living in the borderlands. The notorious event became known as the Parsley Massacre as Trujillo's soldiers held up sprigs of parsley and asked suspected Creole-speaking Haitians to pronounce the Spanish word to seal their fate.

Haitians have been needed as workers but unwanted as citizens in the Dominican Republic for generations. Over the decades, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers have entered the country's labour force, particularly on the sugar plantations or, more recently, to do menial work in DR's flourishing tourism industry. Anywhere between half a million and one million people of Haitian descent now form a large minority within the Republic's population of more than 10 million. In 2013, the constitutional court ruled that children born to non-Dominican citizens, mostly undocumented Haitian immigrants, were not entitled to citizenship. Not only that, but it extended the ruling back to 1929, retroactively stripping many of the citizenship they thought they had. Over the past year, the government has begun deporting those without papers or who can't prove their eligibility for formal status.

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