At the end of clinic yesterday afternoon, while still seated at my desk in the office, I looked over and saw a little family staring at me through the open door. The parents were short in stature and mom was holding a bright-eyed baby girl. I ushered them into the room and asked the father to tell me how I could help.
Dad spoke with pressured speech and told me that they were just deported from the Dominican Republic. He explained that on Wednesday morning of this week, their baby was sick with fever and cough and they wanted her checked by a doctor. The baby is 7 months old but was delivered by C-section two months premature.
Dad and mom did not want to take any chances, and so they started walking to their local hospital as Dad carried the baby. He said that were living in a popular tourist town in the Dominican Republic.
Dad stated that he is an artist and pulled some rough draft drawings out of a tattered notebook to show me. He and his wife moved to the Dominican Republic from Haiti in 2012 in search of a better life. They were renting their tiny house in the Dominican town and doing ok with the money generated from artwork that he was selling to tourists. (I knew from my own trips to the Dominican that it is not uncommon to see Haitian artists selling their paintings on the beach.)
As the family was crossing a street, a Dominican policeman stopped them and asked to see their Dominican ID cards. They do have Dominican ID cards but father said they left them in the house before setting out for the hospital.
Without papers on their person, they were immediately arrested by the Dominican police and taken to a police station. Dad told me that he was angry but did not want to shout or become confrontational because he had his wife and baby with him. Even though they explained their baby was sick, the police were unyielding, and the baby never made it to the hospital.
During the last two-and-one-half years over 200,000 individuals with Haitian blood have been deported from the Dominican Republic back to Haiti. (Many have left on their own for fear of death.) Since 2015, many of the deportees have lived in refugee camps scattered up and down the Haitian-Dominican border. These people have been called “stateless”–neither country wants them, and they have no access to the basic rights that responsible governments provide.
Father told me yesterday morning he and his family were loaded into a Dominican police vehicle of some sort. They were not allowed to go back and get anything from their home. All they had was the clothes on their backs and a bag or two that they were carrying when they were arrested. Five hours later they were deposited at a well-known border town in Haiti where thousands of deportees like them have been brought. The Haitian police then fingerprinted and photographed them.
Dad said that he is from Cap-Haitien, and he told me that he told the Haitian police that he wanted to return home. However, the Haitian police thought differently and loaded the family into a Haitian police vehicle and told the parents that they were going to be dropped off in Cite Soleil—the most infamous slum in Port-au-Prince. When I asked the father why of all places would the Haitian police have wanted to take them to Soleil, father explained to me that he was told by the police that a large public bus headed from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haitien passes in front of the Soleil police station and that they could get on that bus and head north.
A few hours later the family was let off at the Haitian police station in Soleil. They had no friends or contacts in the area, and the Soleil slum was the last place they wanted to be.
Then things got worse.
Their baby was still sick and so they asked locals where the baby could be examined. They were told to go to St. Catherine’s Hospital a mile from the police station. So they took the baby to St. Catherine’s where the baby was examined, medication was prescribed, and blood tests were ordered. As is almost always the case in Soleil, they had no money to buy the medications or obtain the laboratory exams for their baby.
So the family wandered back up the main street in Soleil to the police station and the father tried to explain their plight to the police officers gathered around the station. Because the police did not recognize him and knew that he did not live in Soleil, the police decided to cuff the man in the head a few times before they told him and his family to leave.
Fortunately, a man from the Simone-Pele area (slums near Soleil) witnessed the police striking the father, and he kindly invited them to spend the night on his floor in his little shack. They accepted immediately and he did not ask them for anything in return.
After hearing their story, I knew the two main things for me to do was to examine their baby and then get them to Cap-Haitien as soon as possible.
The baby’s exam was good. She was interactive and seemed to have a simple upper respiratory tract infection.
I had 14 US dollar bills in my backpack which exchanges for 168 Haitian dollars. I told Dad to use the money to pay their way for the grueling five hour trip up to Cap-Haitien. When I handed the father the cash, he looked stunned to have the money in his hands. The mother smiled as she held the baby and said nothing.
Could this family have set me up? It is possible, but I don’t think so. I didn’t get those vibes and father’s Spanish was pretty good.
As I think about this little family, the police in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti really hurt these powerless souls. They took away almost all of their belongings, denied the baby any medical care, dropped them off in a horrid slum, and beat the father in the head for no reason.
This all makes me think of another little family in Nazareth—Jesus, Mary, and Joseph over 2000 years ago. Man’s inhumanity to man continues, but now and then you do find someone who feels some compassion and allows you to sleep on their floor–safe under their roof.
(Dedicated to Troy and Tara Livesay and their BIG family for their zeal and compassion for the people of Haiti.)
John A. Carroll, MD