By Katia Bonté
Coordinator, Support Group for Returnees and Refugees
It happened last year. A pregnant woman, fleeing the violence and chaos that have become commonplace in Haiti, gave birth in Carrizal, Dominican Republic. Because she was a Haitian immigrant crossing the border outside a port of entry, Dominican immigration officials refused to send her to a hospital. She gave birth to her child on the street. She received no medical care or privacy during her delivery.
In 2022, Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatriés et Réfugiés, a resource center for immigrants and refugees, documented more than 1,800 pregnant women being repatriated to Haiti after attempting to flee. Like so many other Haitians, these women are fleeing violence violence exacerbated by the lack of law enforcement and a weak justice system.
Gang violence is prevalent across several parts of Haiti and entire communities are forced to flee as law enforcement has become virtually impotent. From March 2022 to December of 2022, six girls ages 14 to 16 were raped in the Lascahobas and Belladère communities in Haiti, both of which sit close to the Haiti-Dominican Republic border. A civil employee with the local police arrested one of the assailants, but was harassed by bandits into releasing him. The survivors’ parents said they were coerced into dropping the sexual assault charges.
As the survivors of violence muster up the resolve to leave Haiti, their circumstances—and choices—only get more difficult. These survivors live at a tenuous intersection: being an immigrant and being female.
While in transit, women and girls have testified to facing physical and sexual violence on their way to the Dominican Republic. When they finally cross the border, they experience harsh mistreatment at the hands of immigration officials and law enforcement in Haiti’s neighboring country, the Dominican Republic. According to reports we’ve received, it’s not uncommon for immigration and police officers to confiscate purses, watches, cell phones, and even identity cards and passports when detaining a suspected immigrant.
While detained, women and girls said they are routinely humiliated, beaten, and subjected to sexual touching, and in many cases, women are separated from their children. Psychological, sexual, and physical abuse are common during their time in custody from the moment they are detained to when they are repatriated back to Haiti. The survivors have reported to us that they were kept in jail for days with no access to legal services or an opportunity to apply for asylum. They sleep on floors. Many women said they received one glass of water and a loaf of bread per day for food.
It’s hard to imagine stories of pregnant women being hunted in the streets of Dominican neighborhoods, cities, and towns. When they’re apprehended, they are forced into trucks crammed with dozens of other Haitian immigrants into what amounts to animal cages.
Immigrants being deported from Santo Domingo to the Haitian border said they spend up to six hours in these cramped conditions with no food or water. And when they cross the border back into their home country, the treatment is just as harsh.
Repatriated women and girls are forced return to the communities where they already faced rape, beatings, psychological abuse and terror. In 2022, GARR recorded 161,986 repatriated Haitians, 30% of whom are women and girls. Victims returned to victimizers.
The precariousness of being a female and being an immigrant—stained with the horror of
anti-Black racism—makes for an overwhelming narrative shared by thousands of women and
girls across Haiti. Their stories should be told, and we each have a moral obligation to listen to
What’s more important is that we act. The forcible displacement of women and girls in Haiti
into the Dominican Republic and the subsequent brutal mistreatment they are subjected to by
Dominican immigration and law enforcement demand that we speak up for the rights of these
survivors. These women and girls do not benefit from the protection of any state and their
human rights are routinely ignored. They have no opportunity for redress.
The burden is on us to be in solidarity and call attention to these atrocities and demand equitable resolutions. Turning a blind eye to these women and girls who’ve gone through so much only leaves them in a world of darkness.
At this moment, women and girls in Haiti are facing frightening circumstances; their human rights remain at risk. There are a few things that you, as a concerned reader, can do. Encourage the Haitian government to provide comprehensive support and services for repatriated Haitians. Request that the Dominican Republic’s immigration policies provide for the compassionate and humane treatment of those fleeing Haiti—and all people in migration. Demand that the two nations work collaboratively to ensure a just repatriation process that prioritizes dignity over discrimination.
Most importantly, we can demand that Haiti do a better job of protecting the human rights of its own citizens, particularly women and girls, who face tremendous forms of compounding oppression. Collective action is key to systemic change. If we are united in our demand for a better Haiti, we have a fighting chance to achieve lasting change.
Katia Bonté, coordinator of the support group for Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatriés et Réfugiés (GARR), is an attorney, a population and development specialist and a human rights activist.