It’s Thursday morning. You are shaken from sleep by the frantic screams of your mother and siblings. The day you dreaded for so long has come. The day they come for you.
They have come to rip you from your safe-space and transfer you to that place. They tell you they are sending you home, when the only home you know is the four walls, floor, and ceiling that you stand on – screaming as your mother reassures you that everything will be all right. None of that matters now. The Government has issued a decree making you an illegal immigrant. How could you be illegal, or an immigrant, in your own country?
This might not be your reality, and it might not be mine. Heck, many of us would never dream to face this reality. Today, on June 18 2015, Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent – tens of thousands of men, women, and children – will be forced across the Massacre River, which separates Haiti from the Dominican Republic. By all accounts, the river is knee-deep and with a name like the Massacre River, it takes little cognitive effort to diffuse the dark tumultuous history that has plagued that area.
For the sake of context, let me paint the image. Imagine being forced to stand trial where your tongue is your conviction. In 1937, under the command of the Dominican Republic’s dictator Rafael Trujillo, there were more than 25,000 Haitians massacred, simply for being Haitian.
While the world battled anti-Semitism and ethnic cleansing of Nazi Germany, Rafael Trujillo slaughtered men, women, and children simply for being too black. The hypocrisy is that Trujillo did this while he himself was Dominican of Haitian ancestry.
To Trujillo, the blackness of your skin was a symbol of your Haitian-ness, and the contempt he felt for Haitians was unfettered. He gave the order to his troops: go out with a stick of parsley [perejil in Spanish, pronounced ‘peh-reh-hil’] and ask the citizen under arrest to sound the word “Perejil”. To this day, it evades me what phonics rule prevents French natives from pronouncing “perejil” correctly. In Trujillo’s Dominican Republic, an incorrect tone was your judgement of life or death.
Today, institutional racism and class victimisation is unapologetically present in the DR. The country’s constitution blocks Dominicans with Haitian parents or Haitian sounding names from ever being able to access vital social services like education, health care, constitutional rights, and protections from the arbitrary will of the state. How? They deny them birth certificates, and identification cards.
To appease the international community, the DR has announced that they will allow a window period for registrations. They said they would open the registry to regularise those Dominicans of Haitian descent that were stripped of their Dominican citizenship because of the new laws.
This is not enough! The registry offices have been dangerously understaffed. The queues for regularisation are abnormally long. The situation has gotten so bad that authorities used tear gas against persons protesting the DR’s Interior Ministry. One allegation has come out that two children in the line-up have died because of tear-gas used by authorities. And an even greater allegation was made that this situation goes unreported by the media on the ground in the Dominican Republic.
Dominican authorities have misled the people about required documents and submission dates, not to mention that the registry sometimes complains of not having the correct forms to complete the regularisation process.
For all those families caught in the bureaucracy of Dominican authorities who control the system, today is judgement day. I have seen their faces. I know their stories. They are daughters, who are refused documentation and, therefore, cannot study and bring themselves out of poverty. They are mothers who want their children to attend school but are forced to take their children out of school because the teachers threaten to inform the authorities.
As I write these words, my heart is heavy. I feel helpless, and I feel angry. I am not sure how more to beg for assistance for Dominicans in this situation. I am not sure who to beg or how to get it out there, but I will do it how I know best. I will write.
There are more than 500,000 Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian-descent living in the DR. 200,000 of them are eligible for naturalisation. So far, the Dominican authorities have approved 300 applications for naturalisation of Dominicans of Haitian-descent. On June 19, 2015, more than 200,000 Dominicans will be stateless and unjustly moved to Haiti or held in detention camps. Save our children!
This post was written by Derwayne Wills. It was first published on UNICEF’s Voices of Youth on June 18, 2015. Some changes have been made to the original post.