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  HOME | Caribbean

Haitians Face New Form of Discrimination in Vaccine Plan

By Maria Montecelos

SANTO DOMINGO -- Born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents, Anairis is on the verge of giving birth to her third daughter. But under the terms of the Dominican government's immunization plan, neither she nor her children will receive the Covid-19 vaccine due to a lack of identity documents.

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians - the country's main immigrant community - face the same ordeal, which Anairis regards as a new form of the marginalization she has suffered her entire life.

The Dominican government's vaccination plan, launched on Feb. 16, is administered to the population at no cost, but President Luis Abinader has sparked debate in the country with his decision to exclude undocumented migrants.

Under the program, many Haitians born on Dominican soil also are excluded because a decade-old constitutional change prevents the children of anyone residing illegally in Dominican territory from obtaining birthright citizenship.

Anairis told Efe at the door of her home in Bienvenido, a community in Santo Domingo province that is home to a large Haitian immigrant community, that she has always encountered "many obstacles" in trying to obtain documents and gain access to health care or education.

She said with resignation in her voice that she hopes that she and her children will both be administered the vaccine because "prevention is better than regret."

Another young woman, a single mother named Nanyeli Mena, finds herself in a similar situation, having been born in that Caribbean nation to a Haitian mother and a Dominican father.

Although the constitution grants her nationality as the daughter of a Dominican citizen, she and her six siblings never regularized their status.

"I'm afraid that we could be infected because none of my brothers or sisters have documents," she told Efe.

In the communities of this area on the outskirts of the capital, Santo Domingo, there is a near-unanimous opinion among both the Haitian-born and the native population that it is wrong for immigrants to be left out of the vaccination plan.

Lourdes Antoine, community leader and health care advocate at Fundacion La Merced, an NGO that works with Haitians in the area, believes it is a clear case of discrimination.

The foundation also believes the exclusion of migrants poses "an epidemiological risk" because there will be a part of the population that is "unprotected" and therefore capable of continuing to spread Covid-19, Jean Morban, a doctor and researcher who coordinates the organization's health project, told Efe.

A few days ago, the country's new public health minister, Daniel Rivera, reconfirmed the vaccination plan only includes Dominicans and foreign-born people with valid identification.

However, the minister said authorities were looking into the possibility of including undocumented migrants in the program if they reside permanently in the country.

"Certain controls" will need to be established though to prevent Haitians from crossing the border for the sole purpose of getting the vaccine for free, he added.

In Haiti, the government has not yet unveiled its inoculation plan, which will depend entirely on doses that are donated via the Covax mechanism, a World Health Organization-led effort that aims to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have access to Covid-19 vaccines.

The vaccination process is in full flight in the Dominican Republic, a country that thus far has registered 244,168 confirmed coronavirus cases and 3,198 deaths attributed to Covid-19.

In just three weeks, a total of 547,091 people have been vaccinated, or roughly 5 percent of the population.

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