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Immigration Changes Create Refugee Crisis Along Dominican Republic-Haiti Border


We're tracking what could be the early stages of a major refugee crisis. It's happening in one of the world's poorest countries, Haiti. Some 40,000 Haitians have returned to their homeland from the neighboring Dominican Republic. This comes after a crackdown on Haitian migrants there. The Dominican Republic has passed strict laws to encourage the migrants to leave, including stripping citizenship from children born to undocumented Haitian parents. The result is a growing number of refugee-style camps, springing up on the Haitian side of the border as people flee. As Peter Granitz reports, there's some real concern about the Haitian government's ability to manage this.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: It's hard to find anyone who actually knows how many people have crossed the border into Haiti. Presler Jean is trying to find out. He launches a small Styrofoam drone into the sky and sits down and rests his laptop on his knees. As the drone makes its rounds over the pop-up village of Savanne Galata, it snaps photos that show up on his computer.

PRESLER JEAN: It give you all the information. For example, for each pictures, we have the GPS coordinates.

GRANITZ: Jean and his colleagues at the International Organization for Migration will use the aerial photos to determine how the camps are growing. Savanne Galata is just one settlement on the Haitian side of the 230-mile border. It's a collection of homes, most of which are under construction sitting on a hillside. Men hammer corrugated tin, flattening it to make walls for new houses. Sixty-nine families have settled here. It's growing, too. Many men came early to build new homes and are waiting for their families to join. Registering these people falls to local and international aid groups.

LAZAR DAVID: (Foreign language spoken).

GRANITZ: Today, Lazar David, the owner of the land, explains to surveyors from IOM and GARR, a local NGO, just who showed up from where and when. Galata is remote and relatively small. But as you head south toward the coast, you come across much larger camps. This one is called Parc Cadeau. And Morlene Charles, her four children and husband have called it home for about a month. They share two tents. There are more than 500 tents here made of sticks, cardboard and plastic. When asked what kind of assistance she's getting, Charles says members of the local parish handed out some toiletries and a bit of food. She shows us four vacuum-sealed packages of seasoned rice.

MORLENE CHARLES: (Through interpreter) I asked them, how am I supposed to cook this without oil? Then they told me I need to turn around and leave.

GRANITZ: Frantz Pierre-Louis works with Haiti's Department of Civil Protection in this part of the country. He says his agency is closely monitoring the food it hands out.

FRANTZ PIERRE-LOUIS: We don't give them too much because if you give them, let's say, an overload of food, then that might put them in a position to sell the food.

GRANITZ: But there's little evidence of any food handouts in Parc Cadeau or any government officials. Camp resident Pierre Paul Eduoanna says he's seen just two government visits here, one from the first lady, the other with the prime minister.

PIERRE PAUL EDUOANNA: (Through interpreter) The prime minister came and made a lot of promises. Once they gave out rice and spaghetti, and the next time, they gave us hygiene kits.

GRANITZ: The Dominican Republic says it may begin official deportations in August. Tens of thousands could be forced to leave the DR due to a lack of citizenship. Frantz Pierre-Louis of Haiti's Civil Protection Unit says it cannot help everyone. He's concerned people from nearby villages are showing up in camps to take advantage of handouts. And he stresses the Haitian government will not help any person it determines is Dominican.

PIERRE-LOUIS: There are some Dominicans with Haitian origin. So what are we going to do with them? That's not in my mission.

GRANITZ: Just how many people that is, is unclear. And proving just who they are could be impossible. For NPR News, I'm Peter Granitz near Anse-a-Pitres, Haiti. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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