“My name is Johnny and I work for the church in the name of Jesus Christ”.
We are in the Fonds Bayard Refugee camp in Haiti. Johnny is tall, frail, and somber. His eyes hold the hardships of a life he was forced into. Unlike many of the other residents of the Fonds Bayard, a makeshift community about an hour and a half drive outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Johnny has lived in this camp for over a decade. He was deported from the Dominican Republic by authorities in 2002 and has been unable to return.
The details of how Johnny ended up in the Dominican Republic are hazy. He moved with his parents, both now deceased, when he was fifteen and came back to Haiti only when he was targeted. From a legal standpoint, it is unlikely that Johnny has Dominican or Haitian residency or citizenship papers, nor would he be able to afford going through the process of obtaining such documents. This leaves him, any many others, in a stateless limbo. In 2015, the Dominican Republic, retroactively stripped thousands of Haitian of the Dominican citizenship, igniting a major deportation movement. Now, Haitians are being targeted, regardless of whether they have papers or not, and are being forced out of a country that they call home. Estimates suggest that there are more than 200,000 individuals who will be affected by this amendment and more than 10,000 people have already fled the Dominican, either by fear or by force.
Johnny says he does not think he will ever go back to the Dominican Republic, or that he will even ever leave Fonds Bayard. Without income, or any family with him, his story does not surprise us, as it is one we will hear again and again as the day carries on. Many of the refugees in this camp have no ties to Haiti and no resources to start over in a country that is all but foreign to them. Johnny’s accent is heavy and throughout our conversation he switches back and forth from Spanish and Kreyol. The official languages of Haiti are French and Kreyol, yet many of the residents here struggle to speak either, an indication of the difficulties of being forced to adapt to a foreign land.
Johnny now makes a meager living in Fonds Bayard by offering services in massage and traditional medicine to the community of Fonds Bayard. He shares with us that he use to be a successful farmer in the Dominican Republic, “the work that I used to do; I was a farmer. When I did harvest, I didn’t sell by the bag. I sold by the truck load. I was a very successful farmer, I made a lot of money.” When asked if he would want to go back to his life in the Dominican, he slowly looks up and says “the time to go back has passed for me.” Many others in the camp share this sentiment and add that they would also be scared to return because of the hostility towards their population. Those that do go back, will do so for survival and will do so knowing that they could easily end up back at a displacement camp.
Johnny simply hopes that he can find someone to take care of him as he grow older. “I’ve been through a lot of misery. Misery of being broke. Misery of being hungry. There is no one to take care of me. I would like someone to help take care of me. I’m an old guy. I would be thankful to god for that.”
“I’ve been through a lot of misery. Misery of being broke. Misery of being hungry. There is no one to take care of me.”
Johnny is part of the group of 35 individuals who are participating in REBUILD globally’s paid job training program in Fonds Bayard. REBUILD globally has been working in Haiti since the devastating earthquake in 2010 and is fighting poverty in vulnerable communities through education programs and paid job training. The goal of this initiative in Fonds Bayard is to prepare individuals for dignified, living-wage employment, which is provided through their partnership with ethical footwear and accessories company deux mains designs in Port-au-Prince.
He is grateful, but also aware of the realities of the future. “I’m very happy to have the work. I am very happy to be a part of the group. I don’t know if I’ll find work after. It’s for [REBUILD globally] to know that. It is for God to know that.”