Workers from Haiti’s health ministry take the temperatures of returning migrants on the Ouanaminthe-Dajabón border in northeast Haiti. Thousands of Haitians have fled the Dominican Republic in the last several weeks due to the coronavirus and, despite the border being closed, some are going undetected as they cross unofficial crossings. Courtesy of the International Organization for Migration in Haiti

A daily exodus of Haitians fleeing the rapid increase of coronavirus cases in the neighboring Dominican Republic — many evading military patrols and medical screenings as they sneak back into Haiti through the closed land border — is raising concerns about Haiti’s ability to halt the spread of the deadly virus. 

“Even in normal situations, managing the flows at the borders is incredibly difficult,” said Giuseppe Loprete, the country director for the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration. The agency has adapted its tracking of migrant flows along the 224 miles dividing Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola to support the ongoing preparedness and response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

“The best that we can do now is buy some time for the health authorities to put some proper screenings at the border to identify positive cases or people with symptoms although we know COVID-19 is spreading also to people with no symptoms,” he said.

More than 11,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic have returned home since March 29, according to IOM’s monitoring, which tracked movement across the four official border checkpoints and 46 unofficial crossings. 

While about 2,500 passed through official checkpoints where Haiti’s health ministry has installed hand-washing stations and placed temperature takers to screen returnees for flu-like symptoms, thousands of others arrived back undetected and unchecked for a fever or other symptoms. They returned via rivers and mountains bordering the porous frontier that is believed to have at least 100 crossings..
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