Though the former Spanish-owned colony is much more prosperous and stable than its neighbour Haiti, it is still one of the poorest in the Caribbean and there is a huge inequality between the rich and poor. With few prospects of finding work, Dominican youngsters from poor backgrounds are increasingly drawn into a life of crime. Violent crime has rocketed in the country over the past ten years as drug trafficking gangs have become more active.
This rise in violence has prompted a strong response from law enforcement. A new report by the human rights organisation Amnesty International has warned of “alarming” levels of killings and abuses carried out by the Dominican police. Though Amnesty accepts that the police face “many dangers while doing their jobs”, the organisation is concerned about the number of police shootings and evidence of a ‘shoot to kill’ culture, which is seen as deterring people away from crime. However, Amnesty fears that this attitude may in fact be exacerbating the violence and creating a situation where human rights are no longer considered important. It is urging the Dominican government to make sure abuses are investigated and introduce further reforms of the police and justice system. Already, the government has dismissed thousands of officers from the force in a programme to reduce corruption.
Despite these problems, the Dominican Republic is still seen as a place of opportunity by many Haitians, who cross the border illegally in the hope of finding work. Up to one million Haitians are believed to be living in the Dominican Republic, despite regular mass deportations. These were suspended after the earthquake of January 2010, but have since resumed. Security along the border has also been stepped up because of fears about the spread of cholera. Over 13,000 Haitians have been struck with the disease, resulting in more than 3,500 deaths. However, so far, only a handful of deaths have occurred from cholera in the Dominican Republic thanks to prompt health care and low rates of infection.
Fear of allowing Haitians into the country nevertheless remains. And young people who were born in the Dominican Republic but with Haitian parents face many obstacles. Last month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees visited the Dominican Republic for the first time. António Guterres met with young people of Haitian descent who experience difficulties in obtaining citizenship documents and therefore struggle to lead a normal life. The High Commissioner discussed the issue with the Dominican President as part of UNHCR’s global campaign to reduce statelessness.