Haitian students to lead discussion on Caribbean migration crisis

Just several hours southeast of Florida, there is currently a social storm brewing on the island of Hispaniola, one that is beginning to be recognized as a humanitarian crisis.

To bring attention to the issue, a panel consisting of USF students, alumni and faculty will hold a forum to discuss the current exodus of Haitians from the Dominican Republic in room 3707 of the Marshall Student Center today at 7 p.m. 

As a result of legislation known as the Naturalization Law in the Dominican Republic, earthquake survivors and Dominican-born Haitians face forced deportation.

Haiti itself has taken the backlash of the exodus with over 12,000 Haitians — who voluntarily left in fear of potential violence — forced onto the other side of Hispaniola, according to the Washington Post. The Haitian government and the Human Rights Watch have called the deportations a humanitarian crisis.

“We have protests going on, we have all of this going on, but nobody actually sat down and talked about the situation and basically get a better understanding,” Stephania Romulus said.

Romulus is the president of Fanm Kreyol Inc., one of the four student organizations sponsoring the event. The other three include Neg Kreyol Inc., Club Creole and the Latin American Student Association. 

The forum is expected to feature members of the Haitian community as speakers, such as USF Africana studies professor Linda Tavernier-Almada, who protested racism in the U.S. and discrimination against Haitians. 

Also expected to speak at the forum is Jean-Rene Rinvil, founder of iVision TV and director of “Culture Clash” a documentary on second-generation Caribbean Americans and the challenges they face that most other Americans do not. 

“We understand that sometimes we have to go out, we have to leave the country, but the way that they try to make us leave the country is what we’re hurt about,” Romulus said. 

The forum will have a panel format in which the host, USF alumnus Ralphe Jean Poix, will direct questions to the panel and to the audience. The panel will consist of Tavernier-Almada, current USF student Stephen Jones, and USF alumni Stachyse Stanis and Bethsy Plaisir.

The crisis began in 2010 when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake ravaged Haiti, taking the lives of 220,000 and injuring 300,000 people. In the fallout of that disaster, the Dominican Republic offered to help its western neighbor by opening the border to displaced Haitians. 

That goodwill has apparently been used up as roughly 524,000 migrant workers, 90 percent of whom are Haitian, had until Wednesday to acquire the papers to stay in the Dominican Republic according to the New York Times.

The deportations aren’t limited to undocumented laborers. Native-born Dominicans with Haitian descent have been targeted also.

“We have a lot of these people that’ve been living there for a long time that’ve never been to Haiti that were affected by this,” said accounting major Reginald Mompoint, president of Neg Kreyol Inc.

Mompoint said the earthquake took everything from hundreds of thousands of Haitians, causing them to leave Haiti for the Dominican Republic. 

“They lost their homes during the earthquake so they’re trying to have a job in the Dominican Republic so they went there,” Mompoint said. “Also you have the Haitians who have been living there for generations to generations. So that kind of piled up and then you have all these people that’ve been working the sugar canes and then they lost their citizenship due to this law and then they had to be deported back to Haiti.” 

Mompoint at this point it’s unclear how the Haitian government will handle the massive influx of repatriated Haitians from the Dominican Republic. 

“I think the two governments have to come together,” Mompoint said. “Then they have to find a common ground forum for why this issue is happening.”