Rope isolated on white background
On the island of Hispaniola, evenly split down the middle and home to both the Dominican Republic (D.R.) and Haiti, there has long been cross-over between the two countries, with an estimated 450,000 Haitian migrants currently residing in the D.R., a richer country.

In recent weeks, however, the Dominican Republic’s President Danilo Medina announced plans to register migrants and expel undocumented Haitians (or those of Haitian descent) from the country. President Medina’s expulsion plans, which come on the heels of his re-election campaign, have been enormously popular domestically, with many Dominican Republic residents claiming that Haitian migrants drain resources from what is already a very poor country. Systemic racism also plays a part, as many D.R. residents regard their darker, French-speaking and poorer Haitian neighbors as intruders who have put a strain on the country’s weak public system.

As part of the plan, President Medina’s government also proposed the Amnesty Plan – migrants were required to register with the government by June 17, 2015 or face deportation from the D.R. However, according to Celso Perez, a fellow at Human Rights Watch, the government has accepted less than 2 percent of applicants for regularization of Haitian immigrants. Officials also say that the paperwork process carries hidden costs and is frustratingly bureaucratic, which makes it hard for the less educated and the well-off to successfully complete the process. Applicants, for example, must pay RD$1,000 to 1,5000 (US$23 to US$35) to get documents signed by a notary public. For applicants who have to travel to cities where they used to live, the expense can also become compounded. Costs of attorneys, who can help ensure all the paperwork is in order, can also cost up to RD$15,000 (US$350) – an insurmountable cost for applicants who earn low salaries. John Thomas, a D.R. police officer working in Sabaneta, stated that “a lot of the Haitians who have paid fees but keep having to pay more and submit more documents feel like they are being robbed.”

According to officials, only 290,000 of the estimated 450,000 migrants eligible to apply for naturalization completed the application process before the June deadline. These people, who lack sufficient documentation proving ties to the D.R., now must live in a state of uncertainty and fear of sudden expulsion from the country.

President Medina’s plans have had the biggest impact on the D.R.’s poorest migrants; many of whom came to the country in order to escape horrible levels of poverty in Haiti (which has still not recovered economically from the 2010 hurricane). Unable to pay the application fees, and faced with a complicated application process, these poor migrants now live in uncertainty and anxiety of being woken up in the middle of the night by D.R. police and forced to leave. Many mixed families, cities and villages throughout the country now find themselves living in fear of suddenly being ripped apart.

For those who have not been forcibly expelled, many have started to regard leaving the country of their own volition as their best option. According to government figures, more than 31,000 Haitians have left the country so far, with many carting their belongings over the border in the middle of the night in order to avoid police-mandated expulsion.

For now, however, it seems that pressure placed on the D.R. government by human rights organizations and the international community have been effective in stopping what many feared would be a mass exodus of migrants from the country and a ‘human rights catastrophe.’ However, according to Laurel Fletcher, a human rights professor at University of California, Berkeley, it is now more critical than ever that the United States and international community continue to maintain pressure on the Dominican Republic and scrutinize President Medina’s plans to expel undocumented Haitians from the country.

– Ana Powell

Sources: Huffington Post, The New York Times,,US News

bangladesh_refugeesThousands of Bangladeshi refugees are escaping impoverished conditions and ethnic Rohingya are fleeing religious persecution. Human traffickers masquerading as smugglers promised them safe passage to Malaysia, but then held them for ransom on the border between Thailand and Malaysia until their families paid up huge sums of money.

Thailand has recently cracked down on human trafficking rings, especially after finding mass graves in the jungles on the border with Malaysia. Because of this, the Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian governments refused to allow smuggling ships to land on their shores, causing thousands of refugees to find themselves adrift at sea on boats with little resources or food.

However, the people of Aceh, a city in Indonesia, could not ignore the suffering of these refugees. They allowed the boats to land on their shores, defying their government and welcoming the burden of 2,000 starving, impoverished people. Many Acehnese have suffered decades of political turmoil as well as the 2004 tsunami that caused immeasurable damage. Many refugees settled at a port called Kuala Langsa, which is currently housing 425 Bangladeshi and 231 Rohingya migrants. “I feel that they are part of our family, part of Acehnese society, because they have suffered as much as us. It’s better if they stay permanently here,” says a Aceh native and restaurant owner who has provided meals to the refugees. Many agree, saying Aceh is the safest place for them to settle.

The citizens of Aceh even held a concert to help raise funds for the recent migrants. The event was organized by Rafly, a local singer and political figure. It was also a Pemulia Jamee, or traditional Indonesian ceremony to honor guests. Rafly has remarked that he hopes the migrants stay in Aceh.

Before successful landing in Aceh, migrants say they were turned away by the Thai government three times and the Malaysian government twice. The second refusal by the Malaysian government came with a threat that it would bomb their ship if they did not turn away.

Back in Bangladesh, prospects for change are bleak. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina calls the Rohingya “mentally sick” and “tainting the image of the country” by escaping their government-controlled impoverishment, which limits their access to medical care and education. Rohyinga people are Muslim and reside in Rakhine state in western Myanmar. 140,000 remain in tent camps since their hometowns were destroyed by state-sanctioned fundamentalist Buddhists who view the Rohingya as Bangladeshi settlers.

Shortly after Aceh welcomed its refugees, Malaysia and Indonesia issued a statement saying the two countries would provide food and shelter to the 7,000 people who remained floating on the Straits of Malacca, provided these people seek permanent homes after a year.

– Jenny Wheeler

Sources: IRIN, Aljazeera
Photo: NY Daily News

The recent scandal surrounding corruption at FIFA has made headlines around the world. But could it affect the controversial 2022 World Cup in Qatar?

That remained in question Friday as FIFA re-elected Sepp Blatter as its president. The election comes on the heels of a massive corruption investigation involving the top brass of soccer’s governing body. The U.S. Department of Justice indicted 14 of the organization’s executives on dozens of separate charges this week. They are accused of “brazen corruption” in their dealings with sports marketing companies which generate billions for the organization.

FIFA is also accused of dishonesty in its selection process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively. The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland announced Wednesday that it would investigate “criminal mismanagement and money laundering” suspected to have taken place during the bidding process.

Though both selections raised eyebrows among soccer fans, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has proven to be the most controversial. The Gulf state has been widely accused of human rights abuses in its preparation for the event.

Migrant laborers seeking work in Qatar submit to a labor scheme, known as the kafala system, through which host companies “sponsor” foreign laborers. Upon arrival, many workers find their documentation confiscated and their rights severely limited. They sometimes work twelve hour days, seven days a week.

According to the International Labor Organization, the scheme is tantamount to slavery. An investigation by The Guardian found Nepalese workers in Qatar were dying at a rate of one every two days in 2014. Documents produced by that report list worker deaths caused by crushing and electrocution.

Without documentation papers, workers are prevented from ever leaving. Employers also withhold pay to suppress dissent.

Migrant workers play an enormous role in the economy of Qatar. Almost 90 percent of the country’s population is foreign-born and 99 percent of the private sector is foreign. Though human rights organizations and governments have complained, little has been done to address these issues.

Much of the work being conducted in this manner is in preparation for the 2022 World Cup, with contractors using the cheap labor to build facilities for the event.

If the current FIFA crisis continues, it will almost certainly jeopardize Qatar’s hosting opportunity. Sponsors have already begun to re-evaluate their relations with the organization and it is likely many will drop out.

As for the 2018 World Cup in Moscow, Blatter received a stamp of approval from another controversial president: Vladimir Putin. On Thursday, Putin said the investigation was an attempt to thwart Blatter’s re-election. The Russian leader, who was a champion of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, called the investigation “a grave violation of principles of international organization.”

– Kevin McLaughlin

Sources: Department of Justice, The Guardian, Human Rights Watch, Swiss Attorney General
Photo: Zee News


According to a migrant human rights group, a mass deportation policy in Saudi Arabia is counterintuitive and is ultimately harming the nation’s economy.

Migrant Rights reported in its website that “Nitaqat” led to the deportation of more than 800,000 migrants in 2013 and is now putting pressure on companies that play a substantial role in the kingdom’s economy.

“Saudi’s volatile policies against undocumented workers and Nitaqat-incompliant companies not only contravenes migrants’ rights, but have again proven detrimental to Saudi’s economy,” the groups claims.

The fact that many shops are expected to close and that companies have had a difficult time recruiting nationals due to low wages are only two of many unintended consequences of the policy. But many, including economists, have predicted the “adverse economic consequences of Saudi’s nationalization schemes” since before the Nitaqat’s debut in late 2011.

“Both international observers and local employers warned that the rigid imposition of national quotas coupled with mass deportations would debilitate sectors of the Saudi economy and could even lead to a reduction in national employment rates,” claims Migrant Right’s website.

Despite Nitaqat’s having a negative effect on Saudi Arabia’s economy, Migrant Rights is mainly concerned about the challenges the policy forces migrant workers to face. The group asserts that it results in “coercive factors” such as employers wrongly accusing migrants as “huroob” (runaways) so they can hire new workers.

Under the policy, “migrants who escape are considered illegal – they are not entitled to any back pay, and can be fined, indefinitely detained and deported.” However, migrants have already been affected by another system placed within Saudi Arabia prior to Nitaqat.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW,) many migrants are abused, exploited and even forced work against their will under the kafala system.

“The kafala (sponsorship) system ties migrant workers’ residency permits to “sponsoring” employers, who written consent is required for workers to change employers or exit the country,” claims HRW. However, employers take advantage of the system by stealing the migrants’ passports and forcing them to work without being paid.

Saudi Arabia is home to over nine million migrant workers. For the most part, these workers take on clerical and customer service jobs. They make more than half the kingdom’s workforce.

Migrant workers end up in Saudi Arabia and other gulf nations in order to have the opportunities that their own lands could not provide. If it wishes to help people stemming from impoverished countries as well as its own economy, the Saudi government must put an end to the Nitaqat and Kafala polices.

Juan Campos

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Migrant Rights
Photo: Dady Chery