Haitians flock to the Dominican Republic to escape squalor, hunger
by Sharla Megilligan
Posted 2/13/15, 03:10 pm
Two days ago in Santiago, the second largest city in the Dominican Republic, unidentified assailants killed a Haitian man and hung his corpse from a tree. Police questioned several Dominican and Haitian suspects but made no arrests. Racial tension and violence plague the island Haiti and the D.R. share, though it is unclear if the murder was racially motivated.
More than a million Haitians live in poverty in the D.R., preferring that to the squalor and hunger of Haiti. Haitian-born Mares Pierre has lived in both countries but prefers the D.R.: “There are job opportunities here. In Haiti there is just poverty, just hunger.” While both countries are poor, the GDP of the D.R. is 7.5 times greater than Haiti’s. The unemployment rate is 15 percent in the D.R. but 60 percent in Haiti.
Most Haitians enter the D.R. illegally, though they cross the border with relative ease. Those without travel documents pay $50 to cross in a bus: The price includes a bribe for immigration officials. Border agents understand everyone on these buses is entering illegally.
When they arrive in the D.R., immigrants find Haitian villages through word of mouth, or they live with friends and family already settled there. Many find work in agriculture, construction, and housekeeping. Pimps target the young women. Though Haitians face the threat of random deportations, they are typically able to remain in the D.R. as long as they like.
Government deforestation in Haiti over the last 50 years has made it harder for the poor to survive. Haitian land is dry and brown, in stark contrast with the lush greenery of the D.R., where many are within walking distance of fruits and vegetables growing in the countryside. In Haiti, the poor eat mud cakes to lessen their hunger.
Sharla is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course.