22 February 2021
Dominica, a Caribbean island nation with an estimated population of 70,000, has legal provisions regulating detention and deportation of “prohibited immigrants” in its Immigration and Passport Act. The act also provides detention measures for “any person certified by a medical officer to be suffering from a contagious or infectious disease which makes his entry into the State dangerous to the community.” These provisions took on added importance during the COVID-19 pandemic when authorities threatened to “round up all undocumented Haitian nationals and have them returned to their country as soon as possible,” accusing the migrants of spreading disease.
In August 2020, Dominica News Daily reported that some 60 undocumented Haitians had been detained by the police. The police chief said, “Some of them are using Dominica as a transhipment point to travel to other countries through illegal means. I have warned against entering and leaving Dominica through illegal means. Some of our citizens are overseas and want to return home however, they must do so legally by coming in at a designated port of entry. The government of Dominica, the police and the Ministry of Health have worked very hard to make Dominica COVID-19 free.” The National Security Ministry added: “Those coming in illegally are coming from hotspots and therefore pose a very serious threat to all of us. … These people are dangerous and wicked. … When someone comes through the back door you don’t know what they are carrying, it could be drugs or COVID-19.” Shortly after these pronouncements, however, the deportation of 38 Haitian nationals, who were being detained in various police stations, was halted by an application for habeas corpus by their lawyer. Subsequently, it was reported that 42 Haitians were to be deported on 18 August 2020. It is unclear if these deportation took place or if any precautions were taken to check for COVID-19.
The Dominican government, to the concern of the UN Human Rights Committee, has to date failed to enact legal protections for non-citizens, including refugees and asylum seekers, and it provides little information about their presence or treatment in the country. The government states that despite the lack of a legal framework, they have supported the protection of refugees and asylum seekers by granting Haitian migrant workers permanent residency and citizenship. The island had an estimated population of 8,300 international migrants as of mid-2020.
The situation in Dominican prisons and detention centres appears to be mixed. The U.S. State Department, in its 2019 country report on human rights practices, mentioned there were improved sanitary conditions, some upgraded facilities, no reports on lacking conditions, yet also some credible allegations of physical abuse. The UN Human Rights Committee noted the high proportion of pretrial detainees — 46 percent according to the official statistics — and the above average length of detention. It is unclear what percentage of the incarcerated population are non-citizens detained for immigration or asylum reasons. The Haitians detained in August 2020 were reportedly held in police stations in Roseau, St. Joseph, and Portsmouth.
Dominica had recorded 134 cumulative COVID-19 cases as of 21 February 2021. The island nation recorded a relatively low transmission rate after its first recorded case on 22 March 2020. Its borders were closed from 28 March, including repatriation flights for its citizens. Citizens were allowed to return from 15 July 2020; other travellers were allowed entry from 7 August 2020. In Fall 2020, after Hurricane Maria hit the island on 18 September, coronavirus transmission rates started steadily increasing . From September until December 2020, the government imposed night curfews to contain the spread.
- Caribbean Business Report, “Dominica Closes Borders as COVID-19 Cases Rise,” 25 March 2020, https://caribbeanbusinessreport.com/news/dominica-closes-borders-as-covid-19-cases-rise/
- Caribbean National Weekly, “Dominica Reiterates Warning to Haitian Nationals Involved in Illegal Migration,” 3 July 2020, https://www.caribbeannationalweekly.com/caribbean-breaking-news-featured/dominica-reiterates-warning-to-haitian-nationals-involved-in-illegal-migration/
- Dominica News Online, “Dominica’s Immigration Chief to Provide Answers in Court About Deportation Action Against 38 Haitians,” 13 August 2020, https://dominicanewsonline.com/news/homepage/homepage-carousel/dominicas-immigration-chief-to-provide-answers-in-court-about-deportation-action-against-38-haitians/
- Dominica News Online, “Forty-Two Non-Nationals to be Deported from Dominica on Tuesday,” 17 August 2020, https://dominicanewsonline.com/news/homepage/news/forty-two-non-nationals-to-be-deported-from-dominica-on-tuesday/
- Dominica News Online, “Police Make Several Arrests; Offer Rewards for Assistance in Stopping Illegal Movement In and Out of Dominica,” 11 August 2020, https://dominicanewsonline.com/news/homepage/homepage-carousel/police-make-several-arrests-offer-rewards-for-assistance-in-stopping-illegal-movement-in-and-out-of-dominica/
- Garda World, “Dominica: Borders to Reopen to International Travelers from August 7 / Update 1,” 6 August 2020, https://www.garda.com/fr/crisis24/alertes-de-securite/366486/dominica-borders-to-reopen-to-international-travelers-from-august-7-update-1
- Garda World, “Dominica: Curfew Lifted Across Island December 8,” 13 December 2020, https://www.garda.com/fr/crisis24/alertes-de-securite/81996/dominica-curfew-lifted-across-island-december-8
- Human Rights Committee, “Concluding Observations in the Absence of the Initial Report of Dominica,” 24 April 2020, https://docstore.ohchr.org/SelfServices/FilesHandler.ashx?enc=6QkG1d%2fPPRiCAqhKb7yhss9shFCtXTL1yhoQyBq8WOXvmAKRVyDSDGlcnZVrMV%2f5LKMCwSPJ1TJ86q0R3K9jqp9zqp8WtB7eY8nYHk4yQO7WOY9zwwzXE%2fWxd9zDc12c
- Human Rights Committee, “Replies of Dominica to the List of Issues in the Absence of its Initial Report,” 21 April 2020, https://docstore.ohchr.org/SelfServices/FilesHandler.ashx?enc=6QkG1d%2fPPRiCAqhKb7yhss9shFCtXTL1yhoQyBq8WOX9skkgHsiqq3vPNbdykjypJCQdkLlCWe%2b6LwsefrchPrQiUu%2fcTXEUIFKnkDSPYqK2hJKb8RMbie8F8uu942kJ
- Immigration and Passport Act, Chap 18:01 (Act No. 5 of 1941), http://www.dominica.gov.dm/laws/chapters/chap18-01.pdf
- Our World in Data, “Dominica: Coronavirus Pandemic Country Profile,” 22 February 2021, https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus/country/dominica?country=~DMA
- United Nations Population Division, “International Migrant Stock 2020,” https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/content/international-migrant-stock
- United States Department of State, “2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Dominica,” https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/dominica/
- Police Headquarters, Roseau, Dominica (The Sun Dominica, “"I Prefer Go in a Pig Pen": Man Who Spent Time in Roseau and Portsmouth Police Cells,” 16 October 2016, http://sundominica.com/articles/i-prefer-go-in-a-pig-pen-man-who-spent-time-in-ros-3889/ )