BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The decision of the Dominican Republic’s top court to strip citizenship from those born in the country to undocumented migrant parents could make hundreds of thousands of people stateless and leave them in legal limbo, the United Nations has said.
Last week the Constitutional Court ruled that children of undocumented migrants, even if born in the Dominican Republic and registered as Dominicans since 1929, are not eligible for Dominican citizenship as their parents were considered to be seasonal workers “in transit.”
The Dominican Republic shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti, and the decision affects mainly Dominican-born people of Haitian descent. Many are the descendants of Haitians who crossed the border, legally or not, to escape political violence and work in the country’s sugarcane fields, and then settled there.
“We are extremely concerned that a ruling of the Dominican Republic Constitutional Court may deprive tens of thousands of people of nationality, virtually all of them of Haitian descent, and have a very negative impact on their other rights,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.
The court’s decision, which cannot be appealed, gave the country’s electoral commission one year to produce a list of people to be excluded from citizenship based on an audit of tens of thousands of birth certificates.
But the court also ordered the commission to create a system that allows undocumented migrants to become legal citizens.
Rights groups say the citizenship ruling makes many Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless because, after long residence in the Dominican Republic, they cannot prove they are legally Haitian. If neither country accepts them, they face increasing hardship and an uncertain future.
“If this sentence is applied it means up to around 300,000 could become effectively stateless, without a country. It means they have no documents, which in turn means they can’t access health and education services, get married and own property. It’s a serious problem. It’s not certain what will happen, whether they will be deported,” said Joseph Cherubin, who heads the Socio-Cultural Movement for Haitian Workers (MOSCTHA), a rights group based in the United States, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Rights groups say the court ruling follows a series of constitutional reforms in recent years aimed at chipping away at and eventually denying Dominicans of Haitian descent their right to Dominican nationality.
Until 2010, the Dominican Republic granted citizenship to anyone born on its soil. But in that year, a new constitution gave citizenship only to those born in the country to at least one parent of Dominican blood or whose foreign parents were legal residents, according to the United Nations.
Tens of thousands of people found they were no longer entitled to Dominican citizenship.
“We’re talking about third and fourth generation Dominicans who do not know Haiti and who don’t speak Creole,” Cherubin told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from the Dominican Republic. “We want to put pressure on the Dominican government through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to recognise its own citizens.”
“We urge the Dominican government to take all necessary measures to ensure that Dominican citizens of Haitian origin are not deprived of their right to nationality in accordance with the country’s international human rights obligations,” the OHCHR’s Shamdasani said.
For Cherubin, the court ruling is rooted in a long-standing hatred of Dominican-Haitians and Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.
“There is a minority group in the Dominican Republic that is anti-Haitian. It’s a historical issue that has been going on for years,” he said. Haitians are mostly black and Creole-speaking.
The United Nations highlighted the anti-Haitian issue in 2007, when two U.N. human rights experts described the Dominican Republic as having a “profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination” against blacks in general and Haitians in particular.
The court ruling on citizenship has raised tension between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and earlier this week the Haitian government recalled its ambassador in the Dominican Republic.