Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tension Grows in the Border with Dominican Republic as Haitians Try to Escape

BY Daniel Shoer Roth

JIMANI, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC -- Dalina Joseph closed her eyes slowly. Her cousins splashed her face with water to wake her, but she didn't react. She seemed to be dead. She shouldn't have passed away, now that she was finally in a hospital, if she hadn't died during the three days she was buried under the rubble.

``My God,'' she had cried out in pain as her eyes went blank. She called for her mother, Giselle, who had been killed in the earthquake.

Joseph, age 15, spent an entire agonizing day on a mat on the floor of the Melenciano Hospital. Dozens of other survivors were in the same state, nearly all of them with injuries that were now infected and would require amputation.

Dominican officials along the border with Haiti confirmed on Friday that they were expecting tens of thousands of refugees, fleeing the tragedy that had befallen the neighboring country.

People overwhelmingly in need of aid are expected, Marcos Santana, governor of the Independencia province, told El Nuevo Herald. Some spaces would be readied on an as-needed basis, he added.

However, the chaos Friday at the Melenciano, the main hospital in the town of Jiman, revealed that the system has been overwhelmed.

``All the hospitals in the region are already at maximum capacity,'' said Francisco Moquete, director of Melenciano Hospital, which has 34 beds and has seen 700 patients since the tragedy struck. ``From here we are sending them to church centers, but those are full as well.''

``We have created a bottleneck,'' he warned. ``We cannot do anything to operate now if we don't know where we are going to take them.''

The Dominican Republic's secretary of foreign relations distributed a protocol to all government agencies in order to facilitate the entry of Haitians at border crossings. The document specifies which cases qualify: those with medical emergencies or safety problems.

The document also states that those who enter under these conditions will be required to return once they have recovered and conditions in Haiti have improved.

However, authorities fear that some Haitians will see the situation as an opportunity to cross the border and settle permanently in the Dominican Republic.

``The border has been reinforced with CESFRONT soldiers [Cuerpo Especializado de Seguridad Fronteriza or the Border Security Force] in order to make shore that no illegal immigrants are coming in by taking advantage of the situation,'' said Richard Trinidad Benitez, the general supervisor of the immigration office at the Jiman, crossing.

Even though just about anyone who has asked has passed through the gate that separates the two countries, giving the impression of a free flow, the Army has established several checkpoints along the highway that leads out of Jiman.

For years, Haitian immigration has generated controversy, owing to the costs associated with government-paid services. Empirical evidence suggests a strong Haitian presence among the Dominicans; many of them perform work that that the natives do not want to do themselves. However, tensions go back for years between the two countries.

All of this was forgotten on Friday night, when the bars and discos in some parts of the border areas, in a show of mourning, opted not to open.

``We have a great desire and we will do everything humanly possible to help Haitian families,'' Santana said. ``But we have our limitations with respect to food and medicine. We need the helping hand of other countries in the area.''

Source: MiamiHerald

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