UN experts have called on the government of the Dominican Republic to stop the “arbitrary deportations” of Dominicans of Haitian descent, warning that its actions risk violating international laws as well as the country’s own constitution.
The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent said the Dominican Republic also needed to address allegations that racial profiling was being used during the deportation of people of Haitian heritage.
Two years ago, the Dominican constitutional court used a retroactive reinterpretation of the country’s law to strip thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship. It ruled that while anyone born in the Dominican Republic between 1929 and 2010 was entitled to citizenship, those born to parents who were in the country as undocumented migrants were not.
Previously, all children born on Dominican soil, except those considered to be in transit, such as the children of foreign diplomats, were granted citizenship. This included hundreds of thousands of children born to immigrants, once their birth was registered.
The 2013 ruling led to an international outcry and prompted the government of President Danilo Medina to introduce a naturalisation law and allow those whose birth was never registered in the Dominican Republic to apply for residency permits as foreigners. After two years, they can apply for naturalisation.
However, only about 300 of the 250,000 Dominican Haitians who applied for permits had received them by the time the application period elapsed in June, and as many as 500,000 undocumented people living in the Dominican Republic now face potential deportation.
According to the UN group, 19,000 people have left the Dominican Republic for Haiti since 21 June because of fears over what will happen to them when the deportations officially begin next month.
Mireille Fanon Mendès-France, who heads the UN panel, said the departures were being driven by problems in getting the documents needed for naturalisation and regularisation, coupled with a lack of information on the deportation plan and reports of people being forcibly removed.
“No one should be deported when there are legal and valid reasons to stay,” she said. “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.”
Mendès-France also reminded Santa Domingo of its national and international obligations, adding: “The Dominican Republic cannot violate international norms or those of the inter-American system of human rights protection, and especially not violate its own constitution.”
The group echoed its call for the government to adopt the necessary legal measures to restore Dominican citizenship for all those born in the country, but not registered at birth.
It also urged the Dominican Republic to introduce “effective and transparent” legislation to tackle the discrimination and exclusion faced by Haitian migrants and people of Haitian descent in the country.
“The Dominican Republic does not recognise 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,” said Mendès-France.
Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) also called for a halt to the arbitrary deportations, claiming that Dominicans of Haitian descent were being denied basic rights and were unable to register the births of their children, enrol at school or college, work in the formal economy or travel around the country without fear of being expelled.
A report by the group – based on interviews with more than 100 affected people, community leaders, legal experts, government officials and human rights activists – documented more than 60 cases in which Dominicans of Haitian descent were detained and, in some instances, forcibly removed from the country despite having the correct documentation.
At the end of June, the Haitian prime minister, Evans Paul, warned that the Dominican Republic’s crackdown on migrants was creating a humanitarian crisis, with 14,000 people crossing the border into Haiti in less than a week.
Santo Domingo, however, has accused Port-au-Prince of using the situation as a means of diverting attention from Haiti’s own social and political problems, including long-delayed elections. Medina’s government denies that any “massive deportations” have taken place and has told Haiti to put its own house in order before criticising others.
“The Haitian government needs to do its job and stop using the Dominican Republic as an excuse for avoiding its responsibilities to its people,” the government said in a strongly worded recent statement.
“It needs to govern its people, creating investment opportunities and jobs for its citizens, guaranteeing the right to education and health, providing its nationals with documents and fulfilling its commitment to hold legislative and municipal elections on 9 August and presidential ones on 25 October.”