ANSE-À-PITRES, Haiti — Joanis Beaunis says he was deported. Sitting in a makeshift tent he built from tree branches and old cardboard in a camp just outside the Haitian border town of Anse-à-Pitres, the 30-year-old describes how his life has been turned upside down.
“I was born in the Dominican Republic,” he says. “I was coming home from work and immigration authorities grabbed me and deported me to Haiti. My children are still on the other side. It’s been two months since I last saw them.”
His wife Antonia Jane looks lost in her new environment. There is little to do except wait in the intense heat. Food and water arrive sporadically. She and Joanis share the few clothes and shoes they have. Friends they have spoken to only once since they arrived are looking after their children. She says there are many just like them who have been forced to leave the Dominican town where they lived.
“Every day in Barahona they’re deporting a lot of people. Every day they send them to the border,” she says.
The sprawling camp sits on dry, rocky land. Everywhere there are signs of new arrivals. Plots of land are drawn with lines on the ground. Inside the lines stand the wooden skeletons of homes built by hand with nothing more than a machete, string and sweat. They won’t withstand the rainy season when it comes.
Toussaint Eugene, a pastor who oversees the camp, says he has stopped counting the new arrivals. “In the first days I made a list of 160. And every day the number is growing more and more,” Eugene says.
The majority of those living in the camp say they left the Dominican Republic voluntarily, but because they faced harassment, intimidation and racial discrimination. A few say they were threatened they would be killed if they stayed. But others like Joanis are adamant they didn’t choose to come to Haiti.
The Dominican government disputes those accounts. It says no one has been deported since a June 17 deadline passed for foreign workers to apply to stay.
“Since President Danilo Medina decreed a moratorium in December 2013, no deportations have occurred,” Josué Fiallo, special advisor to the Dominican ministry of the presidency, told Al Jazeera. “Individuals who have voluntarily left the Dominican Republic are entitled to return and apply for residential status.”
Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have cited cases of deportations since the Dominican government’s 2013 moratorium.
Asked when deportations would begin, Fiallo said the government would continue to implement its immigration rules.
“No one born in the Dominican Republic will be deported and no one who holds or is entitled to legal Dominican nationality will be deprived of it. Each case will be determined on an individual basis. We are not going to repatriate unaccompanied minors, elders or people undergoing medical treatment,” he said.
The Dominican government estimates that 42,000 people have voluntarily left for Haiti. It isn’t clear how that number has been calculated. As well as the handful of official border crossings, there are numerous unofficial points where people cross back and forth.
The strain in relations between the two nations that share the island of Hispaniola has worsened as each government has given contrasting accounts of what is happening. Haiti’s foreign minister Lener Renauld accused Dominican authorities of dumping undocumented Haitians at the border “like dogs.”
That’s been rejected by the Dominican authorities.
In the last few weeks, field teams from the International Organization for Migration have interviewed 1,133 individuals or 349 households at nine official and unofficial points in Haiti along the Dominican border. A majority said they had chosen to go to Haiti, while over 400 — more than a third — said they had been deported by entities including the military, police, immigration officials and civilians. They said they were deported in June and July.
After he had visited two camps near Anse-à-Pitres as part of a four-day trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the head of a mission from the Organization of American States, Francisco Guerrero, pointedly refused to say whether he believed some living in the camps he visited had been deported from the Dominican Republic.
“I wouldn’t like to make a specific comment now because I’m going to write a report and it’s essential the report remains objective and impartial otherwise I could create more problems that I’m trying to solve,” Guerrero told Al Jazeera.
He did, however, call for dialogue.
“I think it’s going to be extremely important that the two governments settle on a mechanism in order to discuss all these claims between the two countries. One thing I have learned during this visit is that you see one version on the Dominican Republic side and another version in what’s happening in Haiti,” he said.
It was a ruling by the constitutional court in the Dominican Republic in 2013 that controversially stripped people born in the Dominican Republic of citizenship if they don’t have at least one Dominican parent. That led to international criticism and concerns these people could be made stateless.
In the days after the immigration deadline passed in June, Adrian Edwards from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said, “With a stateless population in the Dominican Republic estimated at more than 200,000 people, the consequences of expulsion could be devastating.”
Eight thousand managed to enroll in the government’s so-called “naturalization plan.” Some others resorted to trying to obtain a Haitian passport so they might register as a foreign worker and stay in the land of their birth.
It’s unknown how many foreign, undocumented workers live and work in the Dominican Republic — estimates put the number in excess of half a million — but it is known that the vast majority are Haitian. According to the Dominican government 240,000 migrant workers began the registration process. Critics of the government say it is the thriving Dominican economy that will suffer as well as the individuals.
“The fear is that farming, construction and other fundamental sectors depend on Haitian workers,” said Guadalupe Valdez, a Dominican congresswoman. “The business sector is very worried.”
On a construction site in the Dominican capital Santo Domingo, one undocumented Haitian laborer — with no plans to leave — told Al Jazeera some are paid as little as $6 dollars a day. “We do the jobs Dominicans won’t,” he said.