Tourists have been warned to take extra precautions when travelling through the Haiti-Dominican Republic border, after a rise in kidnappings.
This comes after two groups of missionaries travelling from Santo Domingo to Port-Au-Prince in Haiti have been kidnapped by gangs in the past 6 months, with the most recent incident taking place only 5 days ago.
On the 8th of May, a Dominican bus from the company Metro Servicios Turisticos was hijacked by the Haitian gang 400 Mawozo: of the 17 passengers kidnapped, 8 were Turkish nationals and 8 were Haitian, with a Dominican driver. Police are still searching for the victims in Haiti.
Another concerning case of kidnapping occurred last year when 17 Christian missionaries from the US and Canada were abducted by the Haitian 400 Mawozo gang on a similar bus border crossing.
Tourists planning to travel through or near the Haiti-Dominican Republic border should be aware of the risks at hand: according to Haiti’s Center for Analysis and Research on Human Rights, more than 1,200 people were abducted unlawfully in 2021 – with 81 of them being foreign nationals.
In response to the kidnapping incidents, the Pedernales border market in the Dominican Republic has been placed under military surveillance, to ensure that individuals without identity documents are prevented from entering.
The Dominican government has also granted police and military forces new vehicles and equipment to tackle any breaches of security, including potential kidnapping threats. Extra soldiers in the Special Border Security Corps (known as Cesfront) have also been deployed to the 4 border crossings of Malpasse-Jimaní, Ouanaminthe-Dajabón, Anse-à-Pitres-Pedernales and Belladère-Comendador for 24-hour surveillance.
The rise in violent crime and kidnapping against tourists has led to the Dominican government building a huge border wall alongside Haiti.
Upon completion, it will stretch along 100 miles of the border, specifically protecting Dominican border towns that are prone to illegal immigration from Haiti.
Dominican authorities have reminded tourists to be extra vigilant when travelling across the border. Typically, most violent crimes and kidnappings occur on routes from Santo Domingo to Port-Au-Prince. If travellers must cross the border via land, it is recommended to travel through northern towns, such as Ouanaminthe-Dajabón.
Travellers should also only hand official documentation (including passports, visas and other identity documents) directly to individuals who officially work for the border crossing, or authorised transport workers.
Local kidnappings in cities such as Santo Domingo also occur frequently, targeting tourists for their money. In these cases, individuals are typically approached by men in police uniforms who force them to withdraw the maximum amount of money from ATMs.
Whilst tourists are usually released unharmed if they comply, there have been instances of violence in the past.
To lower the risk of encountering this type of crime, tourists in the Dominican Republic should avoid walking around isolated areas at night, especially in inner-city districts in Santo Domingo, including Arroyo Hondo, Naco and Gazcue. These districts typically report higher crime rates at tourist-frequented bars and restaurants.
Tourists are reminded to notify the Tourist Security Specialised Corps (CESTUR) in case of an emergency or to report a serious crime.
Whilst the local police force can also be notified in these instances, they often lack sufficient training and resources. Therefore, they are not always reliable in tourist-related emergencies.
Tourists should ensure they do not draw attention to themselves by avoiding any displays of money or technology. Leaving valuables in a hotel safe, or at home, is a recommended precaution to take against petty theft.
To avoid involvement in express kidnappings, tourists should only use ATMs inside hotels and banks, which offer protection and CCTV coverage.
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