SANTO DOMINGO – The Dominican Republic plans to limit access to public hospitals for illegal immigrants and review the visa status of students from neighboring Haiti, where authorities are struggling to tackle social unrest.
Haiti has been roiled by a wave of kidnappings and fuel shortages that have resulted from gangs blocking access to fuel terminals, issues that Dominican President Luis Abinader said on Monday that countries including the United States should address “with urgency”.
Late on Wednesday, his Interior Minister Jesus Antonio Vasquez said the country would review the immigration status of foreign citizens and meet with private employers to discuss the hiring of foreigners.
Adding that the situation in Haiti “puts additional pressure on our health budget,” Vasquez told reporters that authorities would also limit illegal immigrants’ access to hospitals across the country.
Haiti’s Foreign Minister Claude Joseph did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. He had said via Twitter following Abinader’s remarks that the two countries should work together to reduce crime on the island of Hispaniola that they share.
Pastor La Rosa, head of the federation of professors of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, where hundreds of Haitian students study, criticized the visa status review.
“It’s an unnecessary retaliation that punishes a sector that doesn’t commit crimes,” he said.
Abinader and Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry discussed bilateral relations by telephone on Wednesday, according to media reports.
The two nations have a long history of political and migratory conflict.
Anti-immigrant sentiment has run high for years in the Dominican Republic, which depends on Haitian laborers to run its agriculture industry, and Haitians often report discrimination and persecution there.
Haitian commerce relies in part on products imported from the Dominican Republic to supply consumer goods.
(Reporting by Ezequiel Abiu Lopez; editing by John Stonestreet)