(AFP)— His Haitian passport was in order, with up-to-date visas, so when police in the Dominican Republic detained him for hours, Josue Azor feels certain it was because of the black colour of his skin.
The arrest of the young photographer came amid a wave of expulsions of Haitian migrants by the Santo Domingo government, with black people being specifically targeted, according to advocacy groups in Haiti — an allegation rejected by the Dominican Republic.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. But their economies and living conditions differ dramatically.
The much richer Dominican Republic, with its thriving tourism industry, attracts Haitian nationals hoping for a better life. Further fueling the migrant flow are the growing insecurity and political chaos that make life in Haiti increasingly challenging.
But Josue Azor was travelling for professional reasons — working with Dominican Republic friends on a stop-motion film. He had just arrived in Las Terrenas, a scenic tourist destination on the northeastern Dominican Republic coast, when he was stopped by police.
“From the edge of town to the police station, the police were picking up young men at random, targeting them for the colour of their skin,” the 36-year-old photographer said.
“It was like a hunt for Haitians,” he said.
Azor said the police “were humiliating people” and refused to verify his identity papers or to let him make a phone call, placing him in a jail cell with a dozen other Haitians.
He was there for several hours, and only after the arrival of Dominican Republic activists called by a friend of his was he allowed to prove his regular status.
With criminal gangs increasingly taking control of neighbourhoods in Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, the flow of migrants to the Dominican Republic has swollen, prompting Santo Domingo to harden its policy, even building a wall along about half the common border.
From September to November alone, Dominican Republic authorities expelled more than 56,300 Haitians, far more than the 15,530 in the corresponding period in 2021, according to the Support Group for Returnees and Refugees (GARR).
The Haitian organisation has denounced the “hatred” and “racial discrimination” that it says underlie the trend.
Advocacy groups for migrants in both Santo Domingo and Port-au-Prince say some expulsions have been conducted illegally — at unofficial border crossings, often at night, and sometimes involving unaccompanied minors.
It is not only NGOs levelling criticism. In November, the United Nations called on countries to stop forcibly repatriating Haitians, given the grave humanitarian crisis gripping the country.
And in late November, the US State Department issued a warning to nationals considering trips to the Dominican Republic, saying some travelers had complained of being delayed or detained because of the colour of their skin.
“There is evidence of racial prejudice and discrimination against persons of dark complexion, Haitians, or those perceived to be Haitian,” a Country Security Report said.
Dominican authorities lashed out at that language, calling the report “ambiguous” and saying it provided no proof of any systematic scheme to violate migrants’ rights.
Asked by AFP about the recent allegations of racially motivated expulsions, the Dominican government and police declined to comment.
In early December, Dominican President Luis Abinader said that “the sacrifice made by the Dominican Republic with the excess of irregular immigrants exceeds its possibilities of assimilation.”
He called for greater international assistance for Haiti.
But the alleged official racism in the Dominican Republic appears to find an echo in the country’s small but very active ultra-nationalist movement, which insists on its own Latino identity.
This group regularly displays its hatred toward the black population, composed not just of Haitian migrants but of Dominicans whose ancestors were enslaved under the old Spanish colonial power.
“On TikTok, you can see black-skinned Dominicans describing humiliating situations they have been subjected to in their own country,” said Edwin Paraison, executive director of the binational friendship group the Zile Foundation.