“With the stroke of a pen, authorities in the Dominican Republic have effectively wiped four generations of Dominicans off the map. Without nationality, tens of thousands of people have become virtual ghosts, who face serious obstacles in accessing basic services in the country,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International. Here at the Office of Public Witness, these words propel us to act, raising awareness and engaging in efforts to help alleviate a dire situation. This reality faces a large population in the Dominican Republic (DR), where the Church of the Brethren has a significant presence. Deprived of the basic right of legal nationality, the DR’s stateless community lacks the paperwork to attend schools, work at a formal jobs, get married, and have opportunities that many people would see as inherent to a normal life. Since Nathan Hosler’s trip to the DR in 2014 and to the Haitian side of the border in 2015, the situation surrounding statelessness in the region merits a current report.
President of the DR since 2012, Danilo Medina, just won reelection in the 2016 presidential race. Although Medina’s administration has made some sweeping developments, such as creating 2,500 new schools and maintaining one of Latin America’s fastest growing economies, the painful situation for thousands of Dominicans of Haitian decent who were “repatriated” to Haiti has not improved under his administration. Following the 2010 constitutional change that eliminated citizenship to those born to migrants in the DR, the DR’s highest constitutional court passed decision 168-13 in September of 2013 that retroactively stripped the citizenship from all of those born to undocumented immigrants since 1929, mostly of Haitian decent.
This action left a population of approximately 200,000 people stateless. Following this, international alarms sounded. The United Nations, human rights organizations, and others cried out against the unjust racial bias inflicted upon those of Haitian decent born in the DR, rendering them with neither Dominican nor Haitian citizenship. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published a press release urging the Dominican Republic not to deport thousands of stateless people “whose citizenship was thrown into question by a 2013 ruling.” The Church of the Brethren also joined the voices in objection to this decision that affected our church community as well.
What has been done?
Succumbing to international pressure, the Medina administration created a naturalization program that expired in February of 2015. Many affected individuals did not learn about the program in time to apply until after it had already expired. Following this, a regularization plan that expired in June 2015 allowed individuals to register with the government. Since then, the Dominican government claims it has granted more than 250,000 previously undocumented migrants temporary visas and reinstated citizenship to 55,000 of the Dominicans born to migrants. However, this leaves a multitude of individuals who did not register. “Most people here were afraid to register,” Pérez said. “They didn’t understand the process or thought they would be deported.” Medina and his government consider the plan a success, not recognizing that many were unable to register.
The Church of the Brethren donated $16,000 and worked with the church in the DR to assist affected individuals through this regularization process. The documentation and trips to the government offices proved a significant financial burden to those trying to attain citizenship.
Current situation and action:
Without family or social networks in Haiti, many stateless individuals are in makeshift camps along the DR-Haiti border. The International Organization for migration estimates about 20,000 official deportations have been carried out, while approximately 60,000 individuals have fled to Haiti on their own in fear of persecution, violence, or deportation. By the end of 2016, an estimated 120,000 individuals will cross over to Haiti. Camps are still swelling near the border, and tensions are rising. “Everyone here is more afraid of aggression from Dominican citizens than aggression from the government,” said one migrant. The Church of the Brethren has visited the border area, offering prayer and medical assistance. About 25 other organizations are working in the camps to provide various forms of assistance.
On behalf of the Church of the Brethren, the Office of Public Witness sent a letter signed by other faith-based organizations to Ambassador Brewster in Santo Domingo, DR, urging him to push for the creation of protocols for deportation that respect human rights, support those affected through documentation guidance and appeals processes, and the restoration of nationality to those affected. The Office of Public Witness continues to work with other organizations such as Church World Service to monitor and respond to this situation.
Peacebuilding and Policy Intern
Office of Public Witness