Migration in the Caribbean: Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Beyond

Few of the foreign tourists enjoying the US $250-a-day luxury of the Casa de Campo resort on the Dominican Republic’s south coast will be aware of a different minority in the vicinity of their hotel complex. A few miles from the hotel stand some of the Dominican Republic’s hundreds of bateyes, clusters of concrete barracks or wooden shacks, home to the country’s poorest people: those who cut cane on its sugar plantations.

Most of those who inhabit the bateyes are of Haitian descent, either born across the border or born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents. Most are illiterate, many suffer from preventable diseases, some are malnourished. Almost all live in conditions of extreme poverty, and a great number are undocumented or stateless individuals.

Haitians and Dominico-Haitians (those born in the Dominican Republic) form a large minority in the Dominican Republic. For decades they have been crossing the border, either by invitation or illegally, to work on sugar plantations or in other agricultural or manual employment, doing the work that Dominicans have traditionally refused to do. But today, as the Dominican government is attempting to abandon its age-old dependence on sugar, and develop manufacturing, tourism and other sectors, Haitian labour is again filling the gaps left by Dominican workers.

Haitians are both needed and widely disparaged as a migrant minority. For Dominican employers they offer a reservoir of cheap labour, which is non-unionized and easy to exploit. Meanwhile, Dominican politicians and the media often depict them as a problem, as a drain on a poor country’s limited resources. Racist attitudes also condemn Haitians and their children as blacker than Dominicans, ‘uncivilized’ and ‘inferior’.

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