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The value of dialogue

Dear Editor,

I chuckled when I read the report on your Website of the "discussion on Haitian Plight in the DR" that took place at the Philipsburg Jubilee Library on Friday. It is a clear example of the hypocrisy of the government of the Dominican Republic in their attempt to purge themselves of their Haitian brethren. The DR benefits from the billions of dollars sent back to family members by their diaspora throughout the Caribbean and the United States by both legal and illegal immigrants to those countries. At the same time they allow such atrocities and transgressions of human rights of migrants to their country looking for a better life and the descendants of those migrants.

I understand that the DR's border with Haiti represents a long and complex history riddled with war, corruption, and people on both sides trying to take advantage of the other. Neither government is innocent in this dispute.

While the DR does indeed have a problem with a huge number of illegal immigrants from Haiti, they also have a very ugly problem with racism that should not be tolerated by the rest of the region. The fact that they would so blatantly disregard the humanity of thousands of people is evidence enough that nobody is willing to talk about the real problem.

Friday's misguided attempt at dialogue here in St. Maarten reveals a very troubling reality of the other side of the DR's immigration problem – namely the fact that while they suffer from an influx of Haitian migrants, the rest of the Caribbean as well as the US are dealing with the burden of illegal immigrants from the DR.

The organizers of Friday's event could not seriously have expected the rest of the community to benefit from presentations held in Spanish. Did they not even think of having a translator for those individuals who, strangely enough, could not speak English despite living on St. Maarten for several years?

Many members of our community can point out times when we have had to deal with migrants from the DR (and Haiti) who had jobs at various companies but could not speak a word of English or Dutch, highlighting the fact that illegal immigration from the DR is still alive and well.

Now let's be clear. I am not encouraging doing to our Dominican immigrants what the DR is doing to their Haitian community. But I am encouraging a dialogue between our government and the government of the DR. I believe a conversation involving all the governments that share the burden of illegal migrants from the DR and the loss of revenue in the remittances (monies) sent back to the DR by their migrant family members is a necessary first step in finding solutions to a problem that plagues all of us.

As a country that prides itself on diversity and harmony, St. Maarten should do more to encourage harmony within our region and stand up against racism wherever it exists.

St. Maarten has to do more to be an example to other nations in handling immigration and human rights issues. Yes, that means we should examine ourselves to see if we are doing enough to keep a balance between protecting our borders and discouraging human and drug-trafficking and making sure that our doors are open to those who would want to legally contribute to the development of our nation.

Dialogue between community members is a good start, provided everyone has a fair chance to contribute. However, I believe that a Dialogue between governments on this issue is long overdue. The people of Haiti have been struggling for a long time and this is putting a strain on the rest of the region especially the DR. Let us dig in and get to the root of the problem and work on partnerships that will benefit all of our peoples.

Until we do, racism, suffering, poverty and illegal immigration will continue to define our relationships with our most populous neighbours.

Doran Joseph

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