Solution needed to stop deportations of stateless Dominicans, say U.N. experts

A deported Haitian man holds up his document that confirms he turned in paperwork to apply for legal residency in the Dominican Republic. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

The U.N. again called for the government of the Dominican Republic to stop its practice of deporting migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent. A problem that simmered for years reached a sort of tipping point in June as “arbitrary deportations” increased, forcing roughly 19,000 people to flee the Dominican for Haiti since June 21.

“Migrants are entitled to protection and Dominicans of Haitian descent have the right to reside safely in the territory, as well as children born in the Dominican Republic who are legally registered,” said Mireille Fanon Mendes-France, a human rights expert who currently heads the U.N. Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent. “No one should be deported when there are legal and valid reasons to stay.”

Tens of thousands of Domincans suddenly lost their citizenship in 2013 due to a Dominican Constitutional Tribunal ruling. The highest court in the country said that the constitutional determination of citizenship for anyone born in the Dominican Republic between 1929 and 2010 only applied to children of Dominican parents. All the children of migrants, mostly from neighboring Haiti, became stateless overnight. It was the legal culmination of a long-standing issue with regard to migrants in the Dominican.

“Like so many visitors to the Dominican Republic before and since, I saw a deep vein of racism and xenophobia that a world more interested in the country’s beaches and ballplayers generally prefers to ignore,” explained journalist Jonathan Katz in a story for the New York Times magazine.

The practice of Haitian’s traveling to the Dominican Republic for work dates back more than a century. Tensions between the two countries date just as far back. Tens of thousands of Haitian workers were slaughtered in 1937 under the rule of dictator Rafael Trujillo. The problem, a terribly kept secret, garnered attention with the court ruling and the threat of mass deportations.

An investigation by Human Rights Watch revealed that the 2014 Naturalization Law, meant to solve the problem created by the court ruling, is not effectively helping the stateless regain citizenship. Even people who manage to negotiate the re-nationalization process face challenges and discrimination. More than 25 registered nationals were detained and moved to deportation points.

“The Dominican Republic is denying tens of thousands of citizens their right to a nationality, and despite mixed messages, people are being detained and shoved over the border,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement at the start of July. “The government needs to immediately stop expelling Dominicans of Haitian descent, and guarantee them their rights.”

It is estimated that more than 500,000 stateless people live in the Dominican Republic, the majority are Haitian. They had until the middle of June to apply for legal residency. Anyone who entered the country before October of 2011 is eligible for residency in the country. Buses were paraded about in June and processing centers established. The government said that deportations of unregistered stateless persons will begin in August. It is believed that mass deportations will begin soon.

Despite a spike in attention in late June and the beginning of July, including sharp criticisms that deportations were a violation of the rights of the targeted people, the plan is moving forward. The statement yesterday from the U.N. working group stressed the need to stop the deportations and for the country to address the problem of discrimination.

“The Dominican Republic does not recognize the existence of a structural problem of racism and xenophobia, but it must address these issues as a matter of priority so the country can live free from tension and fear,” Mendes-France said.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.