Dominican Republic and Haiti are both situated on the island of Hispaniola. However, as neighbours their shared history over recent decades has been one of bloodshed and mistrust. Their relationship is fragile and fraught with prejudice.
Market traders cross the river for a bi-national market on the Haiti/Dominican border
For decades, poor Haitians have migrated to Dominican Republic hoping that this relatively richer country will provide them with economic opportunities that Haiti does not offer.
Yet despite the valuable contribution they make to the Dominican economy, Haitian migrants and their descendents are poorly treated, rarely given identification documents, and struggle to get access to education and healthcare.
They also suffer widespread racism and discrimination.
After the earthquake
However, over the last 12 months there have been dramatic changes in relations between Dominicans and Haitians.
After the horrific earthquake of January 2010, Dominicans responded with compassion and practical help for those left with nothing after the disaster – with many travelling across the border into Haiti to offer assistance. Relationships appeared to be healing.
But the recent cholera outbreak has damaged the renewed relationships between the two nations, with Dominicans blaming Haitians for bringing cholera into their country.
It was clear that if the relationship between the two nations is to heal in a meaningful way then a longer-term, sustainable solution needed to be found in order for them to live harmoniously side by side.
'Solidarity in action'
In February 2011, grass roots organisations from both countries came together to launch the EU-funded project, 'Towards a Culture of Human Rights and Peaceful Coexistence in the Dominican-Haitian border'.
'Both countries should be considered as the wings of the same bird'
This project hopes to address some of the causes of the underlying tensions that exist between the two nations.
The project builds on 10 years of work in this area by both Haitian and Dominican organisations.
Working through 300 community groups, they hope to support vulnerable people who often suffer human rights abuses at the border, creating respect and harmony between individuals and the authorities.
In total, 47,000 people will benefit from this programme, and activities will include:
organising and training groups to help them protect vulnerable people by identifying abuses and reporting human rights violations to the authorities
monitoring and documenting cases of human rights violations on the border
distributing information on human rights and increasing communities' awareness and knowledge of the issues
training communities on peaceful conflict management.
Jeuris Valerio is a trainee lawyer who helps monitor the situation on the border, supporting both Haitians and Dominicans. He wants both governments to work together to create a relationship of solidarity. He says 'both countries should be considered as the wings of the same bird'.
Christian Aid's country manager for Dominican Republic, Sophie Richmond, spoke at the launch of the project: 'This is about the people of two countries working together and it gives us hope despite the huge challenges that exist. This bi-national network brings together groups from both sides of the border to improve the situation. Today, here we can see solidarity in action.'