Haitian migrants at the Dominican border. Photo: Wikimedia

On 18 December, International Migrants Day, Christian Aid partners in Haiti reminded us of the urgent need to protect the rights of migrants and ‘stateless’ people in the Dominican Republic, who fear violence and mass deportation.

Over the past two years, more than 220,000 Haitian migrants and their descendants returned to Haiti from the Dominican Republic. Of these:

  • more than 133,000 are considered ‘spontaneous’ or voluntary returnees,
  • 96,000 were deported,
  • 4,087 were unaccompanied children.

What is the problem?

Loss of citizenship

In September 2013, the Constitutional Tribunal of the Dominican Republic issued Judgement 168-13, ruling that it did not recognise the right of hundreds of thousands of its citizens to Dominican citizenship, because they were children of non-resident foreigners.

A 2015 programme on Democracy Now explains the affect of the 2013 judgement.

This was applied retroactively and has affected generations of families who were born in the Dominican Republic between 1929 and 2010, leaving them in a state of limbo.

The majority of the people affected were Dominicans of Haitian descent. These people were born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents at a time when the Dominican Constitution granted them birthright citizenship.

These people were Dominicans under the law in force at the time of their birth and are also culturally and linguistically Dominican, yet they face a pervasive ‘anti-Haitian’ prejudice that permeates many sectors of Dominican society.

Economic migrants

In addition to those who have been left ‘stateless’ many Haitians continue to cross the border to find work in the relatively richer Dominican Republic particularly in construction, agriculture, domestic work and tourism sectors. The Dominican Republic economy benefits from this cheap and plentiful labour supply. However, they also face discrimination and violations of their rights.

The current situation

This year, in November alone, 5,000 Haitian migrants were deported and 409 returned ‘voluntarily’ from the Dominican Republic. The wave of deportations continues today. Many of the migrants were in possession of legal documentation that should have allowed them to remain, among them a young civil engineering student ‘captured’ for deportation in Santo Domingo.

A rather optimistic view of ‘voluntary return’ is shown in this IOM video from 2016. Since 2010, UN Migration Agency IOM has supported the voluntary return of more than 4,600 Haitians from the Dominican Republic. Many make the decision to return to Haiti due to the difficulties in obtaining suitable work and living conditions in the Dominican Republic. Haitians who return with IOM´s assistance receive training and seed money to develop their own productive initiatives.

Our partners continue to denounce the appalling treatment of migrants, who are locked up during the process of deportation, and often go without any food or water for over 24 hours. They are also forced to sleep on the bare floor. During these arbitrary arrests, many lose their possessions, which are allegedly seized by immigration officers.

Luckner Pierre holding an ID of his membership to the Union of sugar cane workers. He managed to get his pension funds back with support from Christian Aid partner Centro Bono.

Fighting for rights

In the 1950s, Luckner Pierre was a young boy when he was invited to work on a sugar cane plantation in Dominican Republic. Pierre still lives in a batey (sugar workers’ town) in the area of Puerto Plata. He worked for more than 40 years in the Ola station, paying pension contributions, and is now over 75 years old. The company didn’t want to pay him his pension.

Our partner Centro Bono supports people like Pierre to recover their pension funds and have a better quality of life.

What we’re doing

All countries have a recognised right to deport individuals who are residing illegally in their territory, but Christian Aid and its partners object to the way in which the Dominican authorities have carried out some of these deportations.

Along with our partners on the island of Hispaniola (which includes Haiti and the Dominican Republic), we call on:

  • both states to act and be accountable for the defence and promotion of the rights of Haitian migrants on the island.
  • the Haitian Government to collaborate with the Dominican Republic, to find an effective solution and to demand measures to guarantee the protection of the lives and belongings of migrants leaving the country.
  • both states to resolve the situation of descendants of previous migrants who remain in legal limbo.
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