Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Challenges Faced By Stowaways in the Dominican Republic and Haiti

After the recent influx of coverage over the increase of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean I decided to publish this article I wrote for university on the challenges faced by migrants in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Many of the challenges faced by those in this context can be applied to that in the Med, especially the legal battles and challenges with deterrence. 

A stowaway is legally defined by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) as:

“A person who is secreted on a ship, or in cargo which is subsequently loaded on the ship, without the consent of the ship-owner or the Master or any other responsible person and who is detected on board the ship after it has departed from a port, or in the cargo while unloading it in the port of arrival, and is reported as a stowaway by the master to the appropriate authorities (IMO, 1965)".

This definition is important in understanding the challenges faced by stowaways as the subsequent securitisation of the global cargo chain post 9/11 has resulted in differing definitions from those who manage them. For example they are defined in a securitised context as a “plague” (McNicholas, 2007, p. 173) and grouped together with piracy in terms of their levels of threat, when seeking refuge is legally not a crime. My argument will analyse these threats but with the understanding that stowaways from the Dominican Republic and Haiti have always been discriminated against within the foreign policy of the United States (US).
The stowaway faces many challenges that this paper will explore, this is due to the differing contexts in which they are defined (humanitarian, security and legally). For those travelling from the Dominican Republic and Haiti to the USA, I argue these challenges have been intensified by the pre-emptive measures put in place to deter them such as the intervention of the coastguard in territorial and high waters, US customs raids on vessels leaving the port state and a history of repatriation schemes targeting the specific nations of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The wide scope of interpretation of the UNHCR’s refugee convention for dealing with those escaping “a well-founded fear of persecution” (UNHCR, 1967) is difficult to apply in the context of a stowaway in the Caribbean as the convention was written in order to manage politically motivated eastern European refugees. I argue that the miss-interpretation of this policy in regards to the first waves of migration from the Caribbean basin to the USA during the 1960’s, is what has made it difficult for those with genuine claims to refuge. This fear is based on the mistakes learned from the Cuban Mariel boatlift disaster which saw Dictator Fidel Castro allow Cubans to flee, who were initially welcomed with open arms by US President Jimmy Carter. This resulted in “125,000 Cubans seeking asylum in the USA... and it became clear that the USA was unable to accommodate these swelling numbers” (Kline, 2013, p. 1) this state of affairs has evidently shaped the discriminatory policy towards those travelling from the Dominican Republic and Haiti due to embarrassment over the perceived uncontrollable nature of Caribbean immigration.
The public perception of the stowaway and typical migrant from Dominican Republic and Haiti has been that of a poor, unskilled individual who is looking to migrate to the USA in way of creating a better life, which can offer a challenge when looking to submit a claim for asylum. The majority of migrants travelling from the Dominican Republic and Haiti arrive in Florida by boat and account for “41.7% of the population” (Migration Policy Institute, 2012)” representative of how many migrants travel by sea in order to reach America.  As suggested by John A. Bushnell the deputy assistant for inter-American affairs during the 1960’s, “The stark contrast between living conditions and economic prospects in Haiti and the US is the principal factor in motivating emigration to this country.” (Zucker & Zucker, 1996, p. 68). Realistically this is not the case as those who have historically stowed away from the Dominican Republic and Haiti to the USA are predominantly travelling for purposes of mixed migration, which defined as “the term to described the complex and varied reasons that motivate people to leave one state and enter another... may be forced, precipitated by persecution” (Klein, 2012, p. 260) can offer a variety of reasons for the motivation of the stowaway reflective of how the initial policies of allowing mass escape has disadvantaged those who seek genuine refuge. This represents how the refugee convention can be open to interpretation when it comes to stowaways and this flexibility led to the open discrimination of Haitian and Dominican refugees through selective immigration policies.
The first mass movement of migrants from the Dominican Republic happened in the 1960s “in the wake of economic and political turbulence that occurred after dictator Rafael Trujillo was killed” (Nwosu, 2014), which confirms the majority of migrants as economic and political, which although would make many of them eligible for refugee convention status, was mismanaged again due to the processes in which their pleas were heard. This situation is resonated amongst migrants from Haiti who started to arrive in the US in large numbers following the “collapse of the Duvalier dictatorship in the late 1980’s” (Nwosu, 2014) as their appeals for asylum were heard collectively as an active way to ensure their deportation.  During the 1980’s Haiti was marked as a Level 4 country at risk from political violence, risks of terror and human rights abuses, yet “no refugees were allowed in until 1994.” (Zucker & Zucker, 1996, p. 68), However refugees from neighbouring states such as Cuba were allowed in while only considered a level 3 country. This represents how those who had predominantly stowed away in order to reach the USA had done so on the grounds of “mass asylum despite many not having a well-founded fear of persecution… even if they were oppressed with limited freedoms” (Zucker & Zucker, 1996, p. 66) as opposed to as individuals facing political persecution.  This mismanagement was detrimental to the subsequent US policies towards Haitians, as the lesson taken was that it was the migrants themselves abusing the system as opposed to US mismanagement of the individual cases which has led to further discriminatory policies under the shadow of securitisation.
 It is the backlash of these policies that has led to challenges being imposed on those who had a genuine fear of persecution, as displayed through the policies of the Reagan administration. Reagan was attempting to establish the US as the global hegemon and quickly realised that a “nation that controls its borders was saying to the world it brooked no violations of its sovereignty” (Zucker & Zucker, 1996, p. 72) and launched a selective method of border control within Florida. This entailed moving interdicted stowaways around the country where they had limited access to legal support and even holding them in Costa Rica in order to remove the ability to file for legal aid.  The selectiveness of this control heavily impacted in Haitians as it was only targeted at letting in those from communist states as a symbol of America’s commitment to freedom, this is evident through the “18,260 Eastern Europeans” (Robila, 2007, p. 114) that where allowed into America and given work permits. This represents how the challenges of the changing political arena reflected on the treatment of those seeking refuge through stowing away.

Interdiction as “the attempt to intercept irregular migrants before they reach the territory of a state” (Klein, 2012, p. 260) was a preceding feature of the Haitian programme aimed at catching Haitians attempting to travel in international waters towards Florida, it was re-enacted under the Regan administration under the INS-Justice department taskforce and has been a feature of policy ever since. Interdiction has historically provided a challenge to stowaways as if they are found in territorial waters of the flag state (Haitian/Dominican waters) or international waters, the US coastguard has no sovereign duty to protect them and is able to send them back. This would mean “no chance to appeal for asylum or pro-bono legal support” (Zucker & Zucker, 1996, p. 72), a situation that is unique to the situation of stowaways due to the geographical implications of travelling by sea in areas that have no sovereign claim. Post 9/11 this situation has dramatically changed as the management of maritime traffic has become securitised through the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code that enables port state contractors to search ships that are not in their waters as an imperative part of the USA’s policy towards stowaway interdiction.
The US coastguard plays the most important role in the interdiction of stowaways in a contemporary context. The two most important areas they cover are “border patrol and maritime law enforcement” (US Coastguard, n.d.) This is reflected through their interdiction programme Operation ABLE RESPONSE, where “from April 1st 1995 to October 1st 1997 managed to interdict over 9,500 migrants travelling from the Dominican Republic forcing them to turn back” (US Coastguard, 2014), although this number will include those who are travelling in their own boats, it does include stowaways that have been interdicted in either Dominican territorial waters or international waters. A similar program has been carried out in Haiti, under the name of Operation ABLE MANNER which saw the interdiction of over 63,000 migrants illegally travelling to the US by sea. However the US government has gone a step further and introduced a “Coast Guard Liaison Officer, in Port Au Prince” (US Coastguard, 2014) in order to inspect ships and ensure that there is no one travelling illegally due to recognition of the levels of corruption in the Haitian ports. This represents the challenges for those who are unable to travel conventionally to the USA by limiting their routes of travel through stowing away.

 The failure of states to fully create and ratify the 1957 Brussels Convention on stowaways gives the stowaway a blurred idea of what rights and treatment to expect when found at sea and indeed gives states and the ships master the chance to treat them however they please. Therefore the only legal protection a stowaway would have would be the 1952 refugee convention, which I have already discussed the USA has created loopholes around in regards to interdiction and territorial waters. The Brussels convention would have enabled stowaways the ability to understand their legal position if found at various stages of their journey specifically international waters where there is no sovereign state protection. It is the lack of legal support, I argue can that can lead to the stowaway being held on board for a prolonged period of time when the shipping company has to liaise with their respective P&I insurance club or in some cases the UNHCR in order to sort out the re-patriation of the individual. The inconvenience of this can lead to stowaways being mistreated, stories of which are widespread and represent multiple violations of the stowaway’s human rights. An example is the “starvation of stowaways aboard a 420ft freighter bound for New York from Santa Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic” (McFadden, 1994) representative of the lottery of treatment a stowaway can expect even when recognised by the authorities.
The securitisation of the global cargo supply chain furthered the challenges faced by stowaways following the 9/11 attacks. This is through the establishment of the ISPS Code which was created with the purpose of “detecting security threats and taking preventative measures” (IMO, 2003) that required “preventing unauthorised access to ships” (IMO, 2003), this provided a greater challenge to those stowing away with the intention of claiming asylum as it makes them liable to be charged under counter-terror legislation which would result in them having even less rights to representation when seeking convention status. This was a policy that was built around the Safety of Life at Sea convention (SOLAS), which even in the name of the policy suggests a shift from a ‘safety’ and ‘humanitarian’ approach to an ‘objective’ and ‘securitized’ approach. The SOLAS convention doesn’t even mention stowaways, suggestive that the subsequent ISPS code has acknowledged them as a ‘threat’ as opposed within a humanitarian context.  The evolution of the global perception of stowaways has also become more sinister as it no longer entails the sense of adventure and romanticism portrayed in “the books and novels of the 1800’s” (McNicholas, 2007, p. 173), this is due to the rise of transnational crime surrounding stowing away.  This crime comes in the form of human trafficking, drug smuggling and the carrying of terrorists. This perception is evident in a recent case of stowaways being found travelling from Rio Hanna, Dominican Republic to Savannah, Georgia who were described in the press as “being found as having no links to terrorist organisations” (SavannahNow, 2002) with the shipping industry as  being “feared as the target of the next attack” (SavannahNow, 2002), representative of how the securitisation of the shipping industry can offer a challenge for stowaways if they lose their rights when held under terror charges.

Maintaining personal safety to access and whilst aboard a vessel can pose a significant challenge to the stowaway, as it poses a large risk of death. Those from Haiti who are already considered by the Human development index as in a “low state of development” (Human Development Index, 2014) may not be in the best state of health when travelling (which in many cases can be the main reason for travel) can increase their risks of personal harm. Similarly in the Dominican Republic, stowaways tend to hide on ships that are large and where they can easily conceal themselves, they utilise between “authorised and unauthorised points of entry and hide in cargo and containers” (McNicholas, 2007, p. 176) which can lead to damage to the cargo and injury to the individual when cargo shifts in turbulent seas. The biggest challenges to personal safety are demonstrated through the methods used by stowaways from both countries to board the vessel such as “as climbing up the pilot’s ladders and using the infamous stowaway pole” (McNicholas, 2007, p. 176), these methods are dangerous as they involve the stowaway swimming to the vessel in order to gain access where they risk drowning, being pulled under by tidal surges and falling from ladders. One of the most risky places for a stowaway to hide once aboard the vessel is by “accessing the rudder compartment and travelling inside until the port of embarkation” (McNicholas, 2007, p. 178), this method carries a large risk to personal safety as there is constant loud noise, risk of sea spray washing the stowaways out and ruining their supplies. In the context of the Dominican Republic and Haiti many stowaways tend to hide in containers on cargo ships “crossing the Mona passage to Puerto Rico in the hope of reaching the shores of the United States” (McNicholas, 2007, p. 183), this poses a challenge to personal safety as Dominican officials estimate that as many as “100 persons die each month trying to accomplish this goal” (McNicholas, 2007, p. 183) this is either through suffocation within the containers or the ship sinking. The large risk to personal safety taken by stowaways represents their desperation as many are willing to give up their life to try and reach the USA.
The exploitation that stowaways will likely face from smugglers offers a different challenge both in terms of personal safety and the law. Exploitation is almost guaranteed as “between 80-95% of illegal immigrants use a smuggler” (Walser, et al., 2011) in order to cross the USA’s southern border. The threat posed by using a smuggler could be in the form of financial or sexual exploitation in return for their services in aiding their journey which can affect their personal safety as well as their legal standing in any claims to asylum. The lack of development in the ports of embarkation, especially in Santa Domingo and Port Au Prince has resulted in low wages for the security officials who are responsible for carrying out pre-departure checks. “When government positions are paid worse than comparable other jobs, the moral costs of corruption are reduced.” (Abbink, 2002, p. 1), this analogy highlights the moral standing of the corruptible officer as if they have a family to feed they are more likely to accept bribes from reliable smugglers as opposed to risking their job for one off jobs that might be undercover police. The port officials in these contexts make their “real pay, by collecting bribes as they may have to pay their supervisor to get closer to the docks… in these ports it is an open secret who runs the stowaway organisations” (McNicholas, 2007, p. 174).  This situation poses several challenges for stowaways as the clique that is formed between officials and smuggling organisations can lead to the stowaway having to pay extra for a smuggler who is affiliated with a certain official just because of agreements between them even if they thought they were able to do it themselves. Further to this those travelling from the Dominican Republic and Haiti are more likely to have less money to pay the smugglers anyway, as is suggested “the average wage is no more than $3 USD a day” (McNicholas, 2007, p. 172) so the risk of corrupt officials in this context is greater. As a consequence of this the stowaway may also offer to “act as a mula (drug courier)” (McNicholas, 2007, p. 174) in way of payment or part-payment due to their limited resources.  This dramatically risks the legal position of the stowaway as if they are found with illegal narcotics on them it has potential to negatively affect their pledge for asylum and is increasing with the growing trends of transnational crime.

In summary, the challenges faced by stowaways travelling from the Dominican Republic and Haiti have always been more intense than those travelling from any other state, they have been actively discriminated against in terms of claiming asylum throughout the late 19th century and their challenges have been intensified through the securitisation of the global cargo supply chain. There is a little chance that as long as the USA continues to use a policy of deterrence against them that they will stop attempting to make the dangerous journey to Florida for the small chance of being considered on individual merit.

Jessica Simonds 
Queen's University Belfast 


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