Red alert: Pre-Clearance Agreement could stimulate entry of refugees

José Ricardo Taveras / 7 Días

Former director of the Migration Agency (DGM), Jose Ricardo Taveras recommends that the legal advisor of the President, Flavio Dario Espinal, retract the Punta Cana Pre-Clearance Agreement signed by the Ministry of Foreign Relations with the government of the United States. The Presidency had sent the document to the Constitutional Court following the normal procedure for agreements that requires the Constitutional Court decide whether an agreement is in accordance with the Constitution or not prior to sending it to Congress for its ratification, as reported in Diario Libre.

Taveras says the agreement would be lethal for the country, and maintains the same arguments that earlier this month created major national rejection to the signing of two other international agreements that would oblige the Dominican Republic to accept a larger number of refugees from around the world. Just recently, widespread national rejection led the Dominican government to pull out of two United Nations-sponsored migration pacts, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees. Both change the paradigm for migration and refugees.

A closer look at the pacts, when the signing was imminent and international press focused on the rejection of other governments, led the government to do an about-face and not sign the pacts. Diario Libre Adriano Miguel Tejada in an editorial forcefully and succinctly explained the opposition to the pact: virtually everyone living in Haiti qualifies as a refugee. And the Dominican Republic and Haiti share a 300+ km border with woefully inadequate migration enforcement efforts in place by authorities on either side of the border.

The Pre-Clearance Air Agreement for the Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) allows for the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to station their enforcement personnel overseas to inspect travelers prior to boarding US-bound flights. Through Preclearance, CBP Officers conduct the same immigration, customs, and agriculture inspections of international air travelers typically performed upon arrival in the United States before departure from foreign airports.

But for the Punta Cana International Airport pre-clearance agreement, the US government added an annex that would oblige the Dominican Republic to non-refoulement. According to the Red Cross website, the principle of non-refoulement applies regardless of whether a person flees from a country that enjoys peace or a country involved in an armed conflict: if there are substantial grounds for believing that the individual in question would be in danger of being subjected to violations of certain fundamental rights, the person cannot be returned.

The Punta Cana airport is the best-connected airport in the Caribbean and Central America. Under the Pre-Clearance Agreement, it would be obliged to give refugee status to persons not accepted for admission to US territory. Under new international human right rulings, refugees are becoming an increasingly costly burden for many governments.

The pre-clearance agreement was signed by the government in 2016, but it was not until recently that the existence of the amendment that obliges to special treatment for refugees was known after Taveras warned of the high cost this would have to the Dominican Republic. Taveras said the annex would oblige the country to comply with international rules for refugees even when this is contrary to national law. He said the country would find itself having to deal with an increasing number of refugees from Haiti and all around the world.

In an opinion piece in Listin Diario, Central Bank economist Ellen Perez asks about “who will pay for the country to fulfill the obligations the new pacts create with the refugees and migrants?”

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Diario Libre
Listin Diario

20 December 2018