New Dominican Nationality Law Will Aid Some of the DR's Stateless

  • Posted on: 23 May 2014
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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The government of the Dominican Republic recently passed a nationality law which, by no means perfect, represents a step forward in addresssing statelessness.  The main difficulty now lies in its full implementation across the country.  Below is an article by Associated Press writers Ezequiel Abiu Lopez and Danica Coto that notes both positive and negative reactions to the nationality law.   



Associated Press

By Ezequiel Abiu Lopez and Danica Coto 


SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- A newly passed law in the Dominican Republic creates a path to citizenship for the descendants of tens of thousands of migrants who came from neighboring Haiti to toil in sugar fields and do other menial jobs, but human rights groups said Thursday that it fails to address the plight of many more people.  Activists said several loopholes mean the majority of people born in the Dominican Republic to migrants will remain essentially stateless, even as the government celebrated what it called historic legislation. "They make it look like they are improving and resolving the problem, but they are not," said Santiago Canton, director of Partners for Human Rights at the U.S.-based Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. "It really is very disingenuous."


Senators unanimously approved the bill Wednesday evening, after the lower house gave its OK last week. The measure was been submitted by President Danilo Medina after months of consultations to address a September ruling by the Constitutional Court that effectively rendered thousands of residents stateless. The court affirmed that people born in the Dominican Republic to illegal migrants were not automatically entitled to citizenship, a ruling that applied retroactively to 1929. It directed the government to purge birth registries of non-citizens, depriving many residents of the documents they need to attend school or do many other basic tasks in the country of 9 million people. The ruling aggravated longstanding tensions between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which share the island of Hispaniola, and it caused an international outcry. Human rights groups complained that about 200,000 people could lose their citizenship, the majority of them of Haitian descent. The government maintained that only some 24,000 people would be affected, about 13,000 of them of Haitian ancestry. Canton said the new law will benefit only about 20,000 people, or 10 percent of those that activists say are affected by the ruling. "They are taking a small step forward, but they are still continuing with the discrimination against thousands of thousands of people," he said. "The law should apply to absolutely everybody."


The measure applies only to people born to foreigners living in the Dominican Republic between 1929 and 2007 and who are registered with the government. Those who are not registered could apply to become residents and then apply to become naturalized citizens two years later. Anibal de Castro, the Dominican ambassador to the U.S., said the law creates a streamlined path to citizenship for those born in his country and who do not have documents. "President Danilo Medina fulfilled his commitment to finding a just and equitable solution for undocumented persons, while giving clarity to an outdated system," de Castro said in a statement. Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe wrote in a series of tweets that he welcomed the law and considered it a step forward for people who could have been left stateless.


Noemi Mendez, a lawyer who has represented several people affected by the court's ruling, also welcomed the law but noted it allows the government a wide margin of discretion. Among those affected by the law is 25-year-old Juan Telemin, a Dominican born to Haitian parents who said he was never able to enroll in college because he lacks a birth certificate. "It is a great injustice that those who could not obtain birth certificates are considered migrants despite having been born and raised in our country," he said. Ana Maria Belique, spokeswoman for a nonprofit group that has fought for the rights of children born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian migrant workers, praised the law but said she would continue to fight to have everyone included. "After great hardships and lengthy battles, we have achieved the recognition of something that is obvious, that we are Dominicans," said Belique, who was born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian migrants and is still fighting to obtain a birth certificate.


Associated Press writer Ezequiel Lopez reported this story in Santo Domingo and Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.



A new citizenship law adopted last month in the Dominican Republic fails to fully remedy the damaging consequences of a ruling by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal on the legal status of Dominicans of Haitian descent, the Open Society Justice Initiative said today. James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, said:
“Despite its partial corrections of some of the worst aspects of the judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal, the new law supplants citizenship on the basis of place of birth, with citizenship by state fiat. Such a system will create and enshrine statelessness and leave Dominican law in violation of the government’s international human rights obligations.” The tribunal’s ruling, delivered in September, retroactively changed the meaning of Dominican constitutional law to convey citizenship on the basis of parents’ immigration status, instead of the basis of birth in the territory of the Dominican Republic. If implemented as is, the ruling would denationalize thousands of Dominicans born to migrant parents since independence in 1929; the majority of those affected would be Dominicans of Haitian descent.
The new Ley de Régimen Especial y Naturalización 169-14 helpfully mitigates some of the most egregious consequences of the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling by recognizing as citizens those who possess registration of their births between 1929 and 2007 (a period when the Dominican Constitution granted citizenship to all children of residents). This will significantly reduce the numbers at risk of losing citizenship. However, the new Law’s recognition of citizenship is based not on the fact of birth itself on Dominican territory, but rather on whether a birth was officially registered at the time. This creates continuing legal uncertainties:
Firstly, many Dominicans of Haitian descent, particularly those living in poverty, were either unable or actively prevented from registering births during the 1929-2007 period. As a result, they will still lose Dominican citizenship, and may be rendered stateless.
Secondly, the law lets stand the doctrine articulated by the Constitutional Tribunal that birth registration during the 1929-2007 period only bestows citizenship if the parents had formal status as migrants. However, much of the migration of laborers and their families from Haiti during the 20th century was informal. As a result, even individuals who were registered as Dominican citizens at birth may be vulnerable to denationalization at a future date because of the status of their parents, again leaving them stateless.
Thirdly, birth certificates found to have been issued as the result of fraud, impersonation or misrepresentation will be excluded from recognition of validity. The law leaves unclear how such determinations will be conducted; it should guarantee an independent judicial process. In many cases, invalidating registration will also leave individuals stateless.
The government asserts that the new law will also establish a route to citizenship for anyone whose birth in the 1929-2007 period was not registered with the authorities—a majority of those affected by the Constitutional Tribunal’s decision. This process requires them to register first as foreigners, to obtain a migratory permit, and then be resident for an additional two years before being eligible for naturalization. This poses several additional problems: The process forces individuals who were legally Dominican to declare themselves to be foreigners, in the hope of eventually obtaining citizenship again. These individuals are being penalized for the failure of the state, which is responsible for birth registration. In the Dominican Republic there is also a well-documented history of discrimination by officials against people of Haitian descent, which has historically made it difficult for parents to register births.
If individuals born and resident in the Dominican Republic do not have registration of their birth, it is virtually impossible for them to claim any other nationality. In requiring them to register as foreigners, the law will create a stateless population, supposedly pending their naturalization after two years. However, their naturalization is not guaranteed, and anyone denied naturalization will remain stateless. The new law also disregards specific recommendations made by the Inter-American Commission during a visit to the Dominican Republic in December last year, on how to bring the country in line with its international obligations. Notably, the Commission emphasized that any measures adopted should guarantee the right to nationality to those who already had this right under previous constitutions. The Commission was also clear that people who were denationalized cannot be required to register as foreigners in order to secure recognition of their citizenship, and that the measures to remedy must be general and automatic, and cannot be discretionary or implemented in a discriminatory fashion.

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Haiti's government will soon begin a campaign to provide documents to thousands of its citizens seeking legal residency in the Dominican Republic, the Haitian prime minister said Thursday, addressing complaints that have sparked angry protests in recent weeks. Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe also said Haiti would reduce the cost of a passport from $80 to about $25, making it more affordable for migrants in the Dominican Republic who typically earn $5 a day or less. Lamothe, who spoke following a meeting with Dominican officials in the town of Juan Dolio, said the campaign to provide the documents would begin soon but he did not give an exact date. Haitians have staged several protests in recent weeks outside their country's embassy in Santo Domingo in anger about both their inability to secure passports and other forms of identification as well as the high cost of the documents. More than 80,000 Haitians have applied for residency in the Dominican Republic but fewer than 300 had all the documents they need to qualify since registration began June 2. The Dominican government has created a plan to issue work permits and residency documents to migrants who came to the country before October 2011. It has yet to announce a plan to deal with a separate group of people, the descendants of non-citizens who were deemed ineligible for citizenship in a retroactive ruling by the Dominican Supreme Court. The number of migrants without legal residency in the Dominican Republic is unknown but some authorities have estimated they may number as many as 500,000, the vast majority from neighboring Haiti.

Unlike Haiti, the DR is a multicultural, multiracial country. Even before our first independence—from Spain—in 1821, we were first in the Americas to host a community of maroons running away from slavery in French St Domingue. Well before the US, we received hundreds of Germans of Jewish descent. More recently, thousands of Haitians came to our hospitals after the earthquake of 2010 and stayed on to recover in Dominican homes.

Just like Tayllerand wrote about treason being a matter of dates, so are atrocities in Hispaniola. Unlike Mandela, who chose reconciliation to avoid the economy of the graveyard, Haiti chose upon independence to destroy its colonial production, redistribute land in micro-sized lots, practice slash and burn agriculture and chop down 98% of its forest coverage. So now they have no farms of adequate size, no fertile lands, no trees and of course no rural jobs.

No mention is made about what happened to the white or mulatto population during and after their independence; what happened to the DR population during the many Haitian invasions of the 19th Century, before and after our second independence—from Haiti—in 1844. No mention is made, either, of the fact that the DR has never invaded Haiti, before, during or after our third independence—again from Spain—in 1865.

There is no need to refer to the over 30,000 Haitians who died as recently as the government of "Papa Doc" Duvalier, whose policy of “negritude” did so much to expel most educated Haitians in the 1950s and 1960s to countries such as Senegal, Canada, France or the US.

The unacceptable international campaign against the DR fails to recognize that—excluding Haiti—the DR generates more jobs for Haitians than the entire rest of the Caribbean. This is so, in spite of the fact that Haiti signed the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas in 2003, which provides for free movement of skilled and professional personnel as well as for contract workers on a seasonal or project basis for all members of CARICOM.

The DR is fully attached to the rule of law, respect for human rights and complies with all its international treaty obligations. It is a country with a longstanding tradition of nondiscriminatory access to public services.

It is in DR hospitals where Haitians are giving birth to their babies—1 out of every 5 children born—given the fact that the majority of hospitals in Haiti are private. About 18% of the health budget covers the needs of Haitians seeking services in our hospitals.

It is in DR schools that Haitians are educating their children—2 out of every 5 children in many of our public schools—given the fact that the majority of schools in Haiti are private. Thousands attend our universities, paying local rates. 15,000 of those are able to study with full scholarships from the DR government.

It is in the DR that Haitians are exercising most of their civil rights, including access to the judiciary on a non-discriminatory basis, given the fact that many judges have yet to be appointed in Haiti. Moreover, Haitians suffer from longstanding difficulties for obtaining birth certificates, identity cards, voter-registration cards or passports, which, when issued, cost in excess of US$500 altogether, in the poorest country of the Western hemisphere. It is because of these difficulties that elections in Haiti are decided by just 12% of the voting age population.

Amnesty International
Amnesty International has documented a pattern of discrimination towards Dominicans of Haitian descent.Amnesty International has documented a pattern of discrimination towards Dominicans of Haitian descent.© AI
By rejecting the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Dominican Republic is snubbing its nose at international law. The court found that serious human rights abuses were committed. The Dominican Republic cannot just ignore the ruling simply because they do not like the outcome. The dismissive reaction of the Dominican Republic to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ ruling on human rights abuses suffered by Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants demonstrates a shocking disregard for international law and the country’s legal responsibilities, said Amnesty International.
Earlier this week the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) handed down a ruling calling on the Dominican Republic to provide redress for human rights abuses suffered by Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians as a result of illegal deportations, denial of identity documents and arbitrary deprivation of nationality, among others. However, yesterday the government formally rejected the regional court’s ruling, dismissing it as “out of season, biased and inappropriate.” “By rejecting the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Dominican Republic is snubbing its nose at international law. The court found that serious human rights abuses were committed. The Dominican Republic cannot just ignore the ruling simply because they do not like the outcome,” said Chiara Liguori, Caribbean Researcher, Amnesty International.
“In January 2014 President Danilo Medina said that he ‘would not accept anybody’s human rights being violated.’ It is the time to put that statement into practice.”
The decision of the IACHR is entirely in line with previous research by Amnesty International. The organization has documented a pattern of discrimination towards Dominicans of Haitian descent, particularly in the access to identity documents. This entrenched discrimination was exacerbated by a September 2013 Constitutional Court ruling, which left thousands of people of foreign descent stateless.
The IACHR found that, by issuing the September 2013 ruling, the Dominican State had failed to take positive measures to respect the rights to nationality, identity and judicial protection. The Court ordered the Dominican state to revoke the constitutional decision and to adopt all legislative measures, even constitutional amendments if necessary, in order to regulate a simple and accessible birth registration process in accordance with international human rights law. In May this year the Dominican Congress unanimously aproved Law 169/14. It created two categories of people: those who at some point were registered in the Dominican civil registry, and those whose birth was never declared.
Individuals in the first group had the possibility of having their Dominican nationality fully returned in a quick procedure, while the second group were categorized as foreigners and required to apply for Dominican nationality from scratch. The IACHR found that the provisions obliging Dominicans to register as foreigners to be against international human rights law. The Court also noted that the migratory status of the parents do not transfer to the children. Amnesty International is calling on the Dominican Republic to quickly and effectively comply with the IACHR ruling. “It is shameful that the Dominican government dismissed the IACHR ruling in this off-hand manner. Regional and national human rights systems were created to guarantee everyone a route to pursue justice and reparation for human rights abuses when national justice systems have failed them,” said Chiara Liguori. “The Dominican Republic is at a crossroad. Will they continue to discriminate against Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent or take note of these outcries and improve the lives of these vulnerable people? Progress made on some areas of human rights in the last few years would be compromised by the refusal to comply with this ruling.”

Miami Herald
As Haiti and the Dominican Republic remain at an impasse over a brewing migration crisis, the head of a hemispheric mission that recently visited the island both nations share, is reiterating calls for the governments to talk. “It’s essential,” Francisco Guerrero, secretary for political Affairs for the Organization of American States, told the Miami Herald. “One of the main goals of the OAS at this point is that the dialogue between the two countries gets increased in its quality.” In a report about the migration crisis to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, Guerrero and others outlined several observations and recommendations to help smooth relations between the nations that share the island of Hispaniola. Among them: for the OAS to serve as mediator. “If you have this bi-national dialogue between the two countries, it could be easier to ... have a common understanding of what’s happening in that situation,” he said. “Each country has a point of view of what’s happening.”
Dialogue, Guerrero said also would help determine, for example, how many have actually crossed into Haiti since the crisis picked up steam in mid-June after a deadline for enforcement of a new Dominican immigration law expired. The new law, the Dominican government said, was needed to address illegal migration from Haiti. In 2013, the country’s highest court stripped citizenship away from the Dominican-born children of Haitian migrants, dating back to 1929. That decision, which has left thousands stateless, triggered international outcry with Haitians and human rights activists accusing the Dominican government of racism. In response to the criticism, the Dominican government introduced a plan for individuals to reclaim citizenship, but few applied. It also introduced a registration plan for undocumented workers to legalize their status in the country.
A 45-day moratorium for undocumented workers who applied for the so-called “regularization” plan but lacked all the paperwork, expired on April 1, raising new concerns about more arrivals. “We are watching to see what happens,” Haitian Foreign Minister Lener Renauld told the Miami Herald. Renauld welcomed the OAS report. Dominican authorities, however, said the government “has not requested nor requires the intervention of the General Secretariat of the OAS.” “There is no currently existing conflict between the two nations that may warrant the need for said mediation,” the government said. “The descriptive part of the report presents clear evidence that the accusations voiced in recent weeks against the Dominican Republic are false and unfounded, specifically those referring to a humanitarian crisis and alleged systematic violations of human rights that do not exist.”
Bilateral dialogue between the two nations would be “reestablished as soon as the Haitian government moves away from its attitude of discrediting the Dominican Republic, as a means of evading its responsibility with the people of Haiti,” it said. Santiago Canton, head of the Partners for Human Rights Program for the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, said the OAS must follow up. “If nothing is done by the OAS, or by the secretary general in order to ensure a clear, good follow up with dialogue, nothing is going to happen,” Canton said. Talks between Haiti and the Dominican Republic officially broke down last month after a series of statements. First Haiti’s ambassador to the OAS, Bocchit Edmond, publicly accused Dominican authorities of human rights violations, and of abusing migrants and deporting a Nigerian to Haiti. Dominican Foreign Minister Andrés Navarro strongly objected to the claims.
Then, President Michel Martelly who had reportedly given Dominican authorities some guarantees that he would not condemn them on the international stage did just that at a Caribbean Community meeting in Barbados. “We have a right to protect our brothers and sisters,” said Renauld, rejecting the calls for an apology. “You can’t stop Haitians from reacting to the deportations. We’ve denounced it because we see mothers arriving who don’t know where their children are at, husbands who arrive at one border point and their wives were dropped off are at another.”

Human Rights Watch

Victims of Dominican Republic’s Arbitrary Deportations

(New York) – Pregnant women and young children, many stripped of their Dominican citizenship before being pushed across the border into Haiti, are living in deplorable conditions, Human Rights Watch said today. They are among thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent who, since mid-2015, have been forced to leave the country of their birth, including through abusive summary deportations by the Dominican government. “Not only have many been deprived of their right to nationality, they are not getting the assistance they so desperately need,” said Skye Wheeler, women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Neither the Haitian nor the Dominican government is helping some of the most vulnerable undocumented people.” As of November 3, 2016, almost 150,000 Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent have entered Haiti since mid-2015, according to the International Organization for Migration.

After a court ruling in 2013 that retroactively stripped tens of thousands of people of Dominican citizenship, the government paused deportations while it worked to mitigate that ruling’s impact and register people with irregular migration status. Those registration efforts were badly flawed, but the Dominican government resumed deportations to Haiti in July 2015. Although some deportees were migrants without valid claims to stay in the Dominican Republic, others were Dominicans of Haitian descent, including some who were summarily deported and others who left in the belief that their deportation was inevitable, regardless of the strength of their claims to Dominican citizenship. No government or agency has tracked where most of these people have settled in Haiti. However, at least 3,000 of the poorest have lived in camps near the southern Haitian town of Anse-à-Pitres where many still live, struggling to find enough to eat. People live there in makeshift shelters of cardboard and stitched-together clothing. Although Hurricane Matthew hit other areas of Haiti harder, the flimsy shelters of the camps could not withstand the flooding from the October 4, 2016, storm.

Non-governmental groups have called access to water and sanitation in the camps “deplorable.” Local government officials told Human Rights Watch they have not received any extra funds from the central government to support the camp residents. Human Rights Watch visited the Anse-à-Pitres camps in September to research availability of reproductive health care, as it has done in other camp settings in Haiti. Human Rights Watch interviewed 18 women and girls who were pregnant or had recently given birth and found that many could not afford or otherwise access basic care. Human Rights Watch also interviewed local aid workers, local government officials, medical officials, and representatives of nongovernmental groups.

In 2015, Human Rights Watch found that the Dominican government’s efforts to ameliorate the 2013 court ruling, while helpful in principle, were flawed in practice. Undocumented Dominicans of Haitian descent now in Haiti, including many children, whose nationality was taken away, have no clear, accessible path to establish their lawful claims to Dominican citizenship, leaving many stateless in violation of their right to nationality. The Haitian government, including the new administration following the November 20 elections, should address the problem and make clear the options for these stateless people to stay in Haiti and get Haitian citizenship and whether they can still protect their claims to Dominican nationality, as well as the Haitian government’s commitment to work to facilitate either choice

The arrival of thousands of people in Anse-à-Pitres increased demand for scarce resources in a region that was already short of food. The Haitian government and international donors should find ways to respond to these increased needs, including by supporting the increased availability of reproductive health care for women, which is harder to find in the town and surrounding areas compared to other parts of Haiti. Women interviewed said they had to bribe or beg Dominican guards to allow them to cross the border into the Dominican Republic for essential care, such as caesarean sections and sonographies that are not available in the Haitian town. And none were sleeping under a mosquito net, despite widespread malaria, which is especially dangerous to pregnant women, and now the Zika virus, which can impair fetal development. “Women forced out of the Dominican Republic repeatedly said that they had had better access to maternal care back home,” Wheeler said. “Almost all living in the camps also said that they were constantly hungry, especially when pregnant.”

Six of the women Human Rights Watch interviewed had been deported by Dominican officials, apparently arbitrarily. They said that uniformed officials they thought were immigration officers did not make even cursory attempts to determine whether they should be deported, aside from checking whether they had national identity or work documents, and some were not even asked their names. All had been separated from some of their children for days or weeks after they crossed the border and had no legal recourse or opportunity to challenge the deportations before a judge. The Haitian government, and the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has a statelessness mandate as well as a refugee one, should establish a helpline or accessible information desks for people looking for assistance with their nationality. The Haitian government should work with the Dominican government to normalize migration between the two countries. Haitians also need reliable access to Haitian identity documents.

The Dominican government should immediately restore the full nationality of all those affected by the 2013 ruling, find a way to ensure all children born in the country before January 26, 2010, have access to civil registries, and issue corresponding documents to ensure they are protected from arbitrary expulsion to Haiti. The Dominican government should also actively find and recognize as Dominican the denationalized citizens in Haiti, allow them to promptly move back to the Dominican Republic, and issue corresponding documents. Any obstacles preventing birth registration by Dominican parents of Haitian heritage should be lifted. The Dominican Republic should immediately end arbitrary deportations, and ensure that all lawful deportations are carried out in a manner that respects the rights of those concerned. Deportations should be assessed on an individual basis, and anyone deported should be provided with a copy of the deportation order and the opportunity to challenge it before an independent court of law that can suspend it. Deportations should do no harm to family unity.

Human Rights Watch also found that the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR, both of which have important mandates to assist people in this situation, reduced their monitoring of the population movement across the border in mid-2016, including abusive deportations, at least in part because of funding shortages. In September, UNHCR had only been able to help return five Dominicans to the Dominican Republic out of what it believes to be thousands with legitimate claims, again in part because of funding shortfalls. “The arbitrary removal of citizenship of thousands of Dominicans has led to unnecessary suffering and yet no effective steps are being taken to try and rectify the situation,” Wheeler said.

Deportation and Statelessness

In 2013, a Dominican court stripped tens of thousands of children of undocumented Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic of their Dominican citizenship, based on a retroactive reinterpretation of the country’s nationality law. The changes were widely condemned and called discriminatory and an “arbitrary deprivation of nationality” by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. UNHCR expressed concern about the statelessness created by the decision. In 2014, the Dominican government passed a law intended to ameliorate the impact of that decision by allowing those affected to secure their citizenship rights. However, a 2015 report by Human Rights Watch found that efforts by the Dominican government to carry out that law were badly flawed, leaving tens of thousands of Dominicans stripped of their nationality.

Government agencies refused to restore full citizenship to many people who had already been registered with the government as citizens before the ruling. The 2014 law created a registration process for these Dominicans who had never registered, or who had never been registered when babies, but tens of thousands were blocked by too-short deadlines and often unworkable bureaucratic obstacles. Officials and police heavily profiled people of Haitian descent, and deported many summarily. The Dominican government admitted that over 44,000 Dominicans had been unable to register, and nongovernmental groups believe the number may be higher. Some of the women Human Rights Watch interviewed in Haiti said they had been unable to navigate the registration process and were summarily deported or felt that they had no choice but to leave the country.

C.P., 29, was born in the Dominican Republic. She did not register under the 2014 process, she said, because: “All I saw were people like me being maltreated, so I didn’t try to register.” Dominican officers wearing a uniform she did not recognize deported her in mid-2015. She said that she was not given any opportunity to appeal and was deported the same day. No one took her name or gave her any paperwork during the deportation. “I didn’t have any clothes except what I was wearing, or anything for the baby,” she said.

N.B., 37, was also born in the Dominican Republic. She said that her half-sister tried to help her register. “It was hopeless,” she said. “The officers asked a lot of questions, said we had to find the midwife who cut my umbilical cord, or get someone well-known in the village to come and vouch that I was born there.” She was deported in mid-2015 by men she described as being “from immigration.” She said that she was not provided with any paperwork, and was deported the same day, without any opportunity to appeal. “They just asked: ‘Do you have papers?’ and when I said ‘No’, they said, ‘Get in the truck.’” Other women said they were unable to register their children because they themselves lacked identification documents. Many did not understand the registration process or assumed they couldn’t afford to register. Women also faced problems in registering their Dominican-born children because they did not have birth certificates for them. This is consistent with what Human Rights Watch found in 2015, when researchers identified 59 people who were unable to register the births of their children because the parents had documentation problems or because officials refused.

G.J., 38, lived in the Dominican Republic for 22 years as a plantation worker. All of her nine children were born there, the first when she was 15. But none of her children have Dominican birth certificates. “There was no way to register their births as we did not have papers,” she said. Since she was deported in 2015 G.J. has obtained Haitian birth certificates for her children so they can attend school. The birth certificates incorrectly state that the children were born in Haiti. She had to sneak back into the Dominican Republic to pick up five of her children who had remained there when she was deported, and bring them to a camp at Anse-à-Pitres.

In Anse-à-Pitres anyone who has Haitian parents can get a birth certificate from a local registrar. In part because children need to have a birth certificate to register for school, many parents have sought this documentation even if their child has a claim to Dominican nationality. Others have managed to get Haitian birth certificates for children that list the Dominican Republic as the place of birth. It’s not clear whether these children may face administrative hurdles later in life, or even statelessness, if they try to get a Haitian national ID when they reach 18. Haitian law banned dual citizenship until 2012, when a law was passed to allow it. However, it is unclear whether children born before the law was passed can have dual nationalities, or can claim Haitian nationality if they are in fact Dominican.

I.N, 27, had lived in the Dominican Republic since she was 12. She had four children, all born in the Dominican Republic, but none of their births were registered there. “My children’s father was a Dominican man,” she said. “But it was too complex to get them registered as it would have had to be him to do it, and he already had a wife and other children and was unwilling.” I.N. left in mid-2015, fearing deportation. I.N.’s children, some whom live in Haiti and some with her relatives in the Dominican Republic, still lack any papers to establish their citizenship.

Of the six women who said they had been summarily deported, five said that they were deported while holding their babies. All six were separated from at least some of their children during the deportation process, in one case for about two weeks. A.A., 30, was born in Haiti but had been living in the Dominican Republic for 21 years without registering as a migrant. She said that men she thought were immigration agents took her by truck with her baby to somewhere near the Ajimani border point, then ordered her to get out of the truck and walk across the border. “It was hard,” she said. “The baby was crying, we were hungry and I did not even know really where they had taken us.”

A lack of national documentation is not only a problem for people who have been living in the Dominican Republic. Between one million and two million Haitians may be undocumented, according to the UNHCR. Independent border monitors, funded by the International Organization for Migration, have documented 149,493 people crossing the border into Haiti since deportations re-started in mid-2015. Of these, 32,211 had been officially deported by Dominican officials, 25,819 more told monitors they had been unofficially deported, and more than 91,000 people were registered as having left the Dominican Republic “spontaneously.” More than 67 percent of those who answered the International Organization for Migration’s questionnaire did not have any national identity papers at all, neither Haitian nor from the Dominican Republic. Children, including those who were born in the Dominican Republic before 2010, had to be smuggled over the border to join their mothers in Haiti. They are now stateless or have instead acquired Haitian birth certificates.

Access to Reproductive Health Care in Anse-à-Pitres

All 18 of the women Human Rights Watch interviewed said that they had worse access to reproductive health care in Haiti than if they had not left the Dominican Republic. Anse-à-Pitres is in a particularly under-resourced region of Haiti. The largest clinic in the area, serving about 32,000 people, has only two full-time doctors, neither a specialist. Because of a lack of staffing, equipment, and medicines, it is unable to perform surgery. It has a new maternity ward, constructed by an international organization, but cannot use it because of a lack of staff. Medical officials and aid workers in the area said they believe that most women in the area give birth at home. Haitian Department of Health Services data from 2012 ranks the Southeast department, the region where Anse-à-Pitres is located, as having one of the highest percentages of at-home births in the country. The closest place in Haiti to get a caesarian section is roughly seven hours away. Many women with labor complications beg or bribe their way across the nearby border to Dominican towns where they can receive care. Several of these women, as well as local women rights activists, described this as “humiliating.” Women said they also bribe officials to allow them to cross the border for better prenatal care, including sonograms, not available in Anse-à-Pitres. A nurse with counseling skills who had been stationed in Anse-à-Pitres and left in 2013, said no mental health services are available, including for rape victims, although emergency contraception and post-exposure prophylaxis against HIV transmission are available.The Anse-à-Pitres clinic provides free family planning but several of the women and girls said they did not know they could get contraception there. Seeing a doctor is inexpensive (about 25 Haitian gourdes/US$0.38), but many of the camp residents interviewed said that they could not afford medicine, and so did not visit the doctor, even when unwell, or have checkups during their pregnancy.

The Haitian government does not provide free drugs. Instead, clinics buy them and then sell them to patients. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) used to provide obstetric medicines and other forms of assistance but has not done so since 2014, a medical official at the clinic said. He said that the clinic has severe shortages of drugs, including of basic antibiotics, and has not received significant government or other support since mid-2015. All the women interviewed said that they often experienced severe hunger during their pregnancies, sometimes eating only once a day or every two days. No systematic food aid is provided to the camp residents, including to babies, and there is no maternal feeding program. None of the women could afford vitamins to take during their pregnancy.

The International Organization for Migration provided about 580 families living in these camps with rent and cash support for a year in April 2016, in an effort to clear the camps. Women who received the assistance said that their families’ lives had improved since they relocated. Other families have returned to the camps, or were never registered for the assistance and are not able now to get any support. Aid organizations and government agencies stopped providing even intermittent aid to the camps in May, and it does not appear that any new plans to provide aid are on the horizon. “I went to Dominican Republic for a sonogram, because there’s none here,” said C.M., 25. “I had to pay 500 pesos for that and I also had to pay a bribe to cross the border because I have no papers. I know that you had to pay to get papers to stay in the Dominican Republic and I had no money. No one explained anything to me, how I was someone [who would have to register to begin the process of nationalization]. It’s common in this camp to have to have sex for food or money, I’ve done it many times, but most often with my current partner.”

She said she was born in the Dominican Republic but did not register as she did not understand the process or have any documents, and was three months pregnant when she moved into the camp in mid-2015. “I had complications,” said N.A., 24. “I went to the clinic in Anse-à-Pitres but they could not help me so I had to bribe 500 pesos to get across the border. And then I had to go on to Baharona because they could not help me in Pedernales and so that was another 4,000 pesos. I am really worried because I borrowed all this money and I have still not paid it back. I have a partner here but it is just an economic thing.” She was born in Haiti, and deported from the Dominican Republic when pregnant in mid-2015, after living there for two years. She has been in the camp since June 2015 and is now pregnant again.


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