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Dominican Republic authorities say they have busted a human trafficking ring that allegedly exploited dozens of Haitian migrants as beggars on street corners in the capital.
The 74 illegal immigrants — 44 of them children, including 10 less than 1-year-old — were found at a building that formerly housed a daycare centre in a poor suburb west of Santo Domingo, said Sigfrido Pared, director of the country's migration agency.
Pared said the migrants were sent out each morning to busy intersections to beg for money, wash windshields or do other menial tasks. At the end of the day they were rounded up, and whatever they made was taken from them.
Ten suspected ringleaders, also illegal migrants from Haiti, were arrested on suspicion of human trafficking, Pared said.
Immigration and child protection agencies will try to reunite the children with relatives in Haiti.
"The idea is to find a humane solution," said Cy Winter of the International Migration Organisation.
Officials say that in most cases of children being caught up in human trafficking rings, their parents give them up in exchange for money.
Hundreds of thousands of Haitians live illegally in the Dominican Republic, fleeing the severe poverty in their homeland. Since the devastating earthquake last year and then a cholera outbreak, Haitians have been crossing the border in even greater numbers.
In response, Dominican authorities launched a sweeping immigration dragnet that has led to thousands of deportations this year.