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In Photos: Life at the Largest Border Crossing Between Haiti and the Dominican Republic

VICE News visited the Dajabon border crossing, an area where goods are traded and sold, where Haitian migrants cross over in search of a better life, and where families have recently been self-deporting.
Imagen por Christopher Gregory/VICE News

Scattered along the border between Haiti and Dominican Republic are a series of border crossings that offer a free trade zone to the population of the two countries on the island of Hispaniola. Twice a week, the gates open to a common market area where goods are traded and sold.

One of these is Dajabon, the largest border crossing and the site of the seldom-remembered 1937 genocide of 20,000 Haitians by Dominican forces. It is also a common passage for Haitian migrants crossing over into Dominican Republic to work in the sugarcane fields, or to find a better way of life in the cities of Santiago, Puerto Plata, and Santo Domingo.


But on Friday, June 19, two days after the deadline for Haitian migrants and some Dominican-Haitians to apply for residency in the Dominican Republic under a new naturalization law, many were crossing back the other way, toward Haiti, with their entire lives strapped to small pickup trucks.

Related: Families Are Deporting Themselves to Haiti: Dominican Deadlock (Dispatch 3)

Josue Inelis, 33, crosses into Haiti at the Dajabon crossing with all his belongings.

Many of these migrants are people who have been living in the Dominican Republic for years or decades. Each family that has decided to self-deport back to Haiti has done so for different reasons. Some applied for residency but were unsure of their standing. Some tried to apply and failed or missed the deadline. Others didn't bother with the long lines at government bureaus and decided to leave the country before facing contact with the immigration authorities or police.

Josue Inelis, 33, gave up attempting to apply for residency for himself and his family amid long lines and people hustling him for bribes. He left for Haiti, emphasizing that what he was actually fleeing was discriminatory violence in Santiago.

Inelis and his wife, Igamen Gistav, have a child who was born in the Dominican Republic but is now effectively stateless after migrating back to Haiti, where she has no legal standing as a resident.

Related: Citizenship Limbo for Dominican Haitians: Dominican Deadlock (Dispatch 2)

Dajabón is ground zero for Haitian-Dominican Relations. It is the largest border crossing and in 1937 was the site of a genocide of 20,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. 

Inelis and his family, along with his brother-in-law and their family, arrived in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, a small town just across the border. A crowd of people surrounded their truck, well aware of their situation and reason for arrival, screaming and shouting to be hired to take them to a hotel or a provide a ride to the nearest port town. The two families sped off in a separate bus to Cap-Haitien to start their lives over after 13 years in the Dominican Republic.


Meanwhile, Dominican authorities were prepping a nearby military base called Fort Beller in Dajabon to become a detention facility — dubbed a "welcome center."

Amid reports of these detention centers being built around the country, VICE News entered Fort Beller to see firsthand what these facilities looked like. Authorities were prepping the centro de acogida, or "center of refuge," and giving a tour of the facility to three other people.

Related: The Deadline for Citizenship: Dominican Deadlock (Dispatch 1)

Igamen Gistav and her husband cross into Haiti fleeing discriminatory violence in the Dominican City of Santiago.

Despite surprisingly lax security at the front gate, the military officers at the facility were quick to wave cameras away. They told VICE News that they have strict orders to keep this facility under wraps, and that it is not under their jurisdiction.

When asked who was in charge of the facility, the officer was happy to confidently respond: "Immigration."

Related: In Photos: A Community in the Crosshairs of the Dominican Republic's Naturalization Law

Thousands of Dominican citizens of Haitian may have been left stateless after a deadline to register for residency passed on June 17. 

Twice a week the gates are opened at Dajabon for Haitians to come into the Dominican Republic to buy goods. 

Igamen Gistav (third from left) gets a ride from the Haitian border town of Ouanaminthe to a nearby town to start over again with her husband Josue. 

A motorcycle driver who ferries goods and people across the border on market days in Ouanaminthe, Haiti.

Dajabón and its Haitian sister town of Ouanaminthe are ground zero for Haitian-Dominican Relations.

Haiti has become the largest market for Dominican goods after the US. 

The scene at the Dajabon Border Crossing in the Dominican Republic.

The river that runs through Dajabon is aptly named Massacre River after bloody colonial battles that took place there in the 17th Century.

Fort Beller in Dajabon, where a detention center is slated to open to process individuals before they're deported to Haiti. 

Follow Eric Fernandez and Chris Gregory on Twitter: @Wakeupitsfern and @cgregoryphoto

This story was produced with support from LG as part of the Photos from Beyond program. VICE News maintains all editorial independence in the production of this content.