At a tense briefing, Human Rights Watch calls on the Dominican Republic to restore citizenship to thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent at risk of forced deportation amidst fears of a humanitarian crisis in the region.
SAN CRISTOBAL, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (JULY 01, 2015) (REUTERS) – The New York-based international-NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Dominican Republic to immediately restore all rights to citizens, including those of Haitian descent who were reportedly stripped of their nationality following a migrant crackdown in the Caribbean nation. The government denies the claim that any migrants have been deported.
Hundreds of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent are reportedly crossing into Haiti each day from the Dominican Republic and activists say the influx is causing a humanitarian crisis.
The surge in border crossings follows implementation last month of a Dominican immigration law which requires undocumented individuals to register for residency under a “regularisation” programme. The law has created a tense environment in the country, as was seen at the HRW presentation as reporters pushed for answers regarding deportations.
Those unable to register and who do not have identity documents could be subject to deportation, Dominican officials have said.
Many of those affected are children born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents who were considered Dominican nationals before changes to nationality laws and a 2013 constitutional court ruling.
The ruling reversed the right of citizenship for many foreigners born in the Dominican Republic, stripping children of Haitian migrants of their Dominican nationality, according to the HRW.
Over the last century an untold number of Haitians have crossed into the more prosperous Dominican Republic to escape political violence or seek a better life, with many filling menial jobs in the country’s sugar cane industry.
According to the vice minister of the Interior and Police, Washington Gonzalez, those working as sugar cane cutters will be granted a reprieve by Dominican authorities. Although the government has yet to provide details on the plan, the move follows a lawsuit on behalf of the Dominican Cane Cutters Union on the matter.
“The sugar cane industry in the Dominican Republic is 100 years old. And for the first time they are giving permanent residency to sugar cane workers. For the first time, thousands of sugar cane workers who have never had an ID, neither in Haiti or in the Dominican Republic, with this kind of registry, they have it now,” said sugar cane worker, Jesus Nunez.
But many Dominican-born children whose Haitian parents worked in sugar cane fields are not so lucky with their fate still in limbo.
The 43-page report from the HRW concluded tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent are stuck in “legal limbo” as they face the possibility of being deported to neighbouring Haiti.
“In this report, entitled, ‘We are Dominican, Arbitrary Deprivation of Nationality in the Dominican Republic,’ hundreds of cases from 13 provinces in the Dominican Republic are documented. Human Rights Watch has concluded that Dominicans of Haitian descent still cannot perform basic civic acts like register children at the time of their birth, enroll in school and university, and participate in the formal economy, not the informal (economy), formal, or travel through the country without putting themselves at risk of expulsion. The Dominican Republic is denying the right to a nationality to tens of thousands of citizens and despite mixed messages, authorities are detaining people and expelling them to the other side of the boarder, which means Haiti.” said director of Human Rights Watch Americas, Jose Miguel Vivanco, from Santo Domingo.
The Dominican army has 2,000 troops ready to help coordinate the removal of people who fail to meet legal requirements to remain in the country. Four “Welcome Centres” are being set up to receive undocumented people, the government said.
Local media have reported the government has dozens of buses on standby to transport undocumented people to the Haiti border.
Vivanco called on the Dominican government to immediately reverse its deportation policy.
“The Dominican government needs to immediately stop expelling Dominicans of Haitian descent, and guarantee them their rights,” he declared.
Dominican authorities have defended the changes to the nationality and immigration laws saying it aims to tackle illegal migration from neighbouring Haiti.
Officials also report more than 280,000 people have registered under the programme. Those deemed eligible could earn a two-year temporary migrant status.
The Dominican President Danilo Medina has played down talk of a humanitarian disaster, saying statistics quoting 200,000 people at risk of deportation are false and ruled out
reports of statelessness in the Dominican Republic.
Indeed, a journalist from Dominican state television contested Vivanco’s claims about deportations.
“But that’s not all… just one case of statelessness that has led to this here, certified, not only by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). Forget the UNHCR, the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, said in Guatemala that there is not even a single case. Now, are you saying the president lied to the Dominican Republic? Clearly, you are,” he said.
There is no official data on how many Dominicans of Haitian descent are in the country, human rights groups say, as many never obtained documents with the civil registry. Less than 9,000 have been able to register under a separate naturalisation program which expired in February, according to Human Rights Watch.