Why have Dominican-born workers been made stateless in the only country they know?


The Dominican Republic and Haiti: same island, two very different conditions. The Dominican Republic is the second largest economy in the Caribbean, with agriculture, trade, services, tourism and remittances providing the main areas of economic activity.

Haiti, on the other hand, is routinely cited as one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere thanks to a history of dictatorships, corruption and natural disasters – not to mention the 150 million francs (equivalent to US$21 million in today’s money) Haiti was forced to pay France for ending slavery from 1825 until 1947.

As a result, generations of Haitians have gone to find work in the neighbouring Dominican Republic and hundreds of thousands have made the country their home.

Today, Dominicans of Haitian-descent are relied on to provide cheap labour, mainly in the slavery-like (and often outright slavery) conditions found in the country’s vast sugar plantations but also in construction and domestic work, as well as elsewhere in the informal sector.

But a recent decision by the Dominican Constitutional Court to strip the children of undocumented migrants of their citizenship could change that.

In an unprecedented move, the Dominican Republic has revoked the citizenship of Dominican citizens of Haitian descent dating all the way back to 1929.

The access to Dominican citizenship for Dominican-Haitians has been very complicated for two main reasons: the Dominican Civil Registry’s inherently hostility towards the extension of citizenship’s toward Dominican of Haitians descent; and the fact that many Dominican-Haitian parents do not have documents for their own births, therefore making it impossible to prove their own citizenship or that of their children.

In 2010, the rules on citizenship where changed so that only those born to Dominican parents and/or to legal immigrants could claim citizenship.

This, and the government’s latest move, appears to be driven by pressure from nationalist parties and the populist appeal of ‘fighting’ the ‘Haitianization’ of the country.

Officially, around 22,000 people are thought to be affected by Ruling 0168-13 but the real number could be as high 300,000 to 500,000.

As well as leaving former citizens stateless, the decision represents the latest troubling chapter in a difficult history between the two nations, which has been blighted by deep-seated xenophobia and racial discrimination against Haitians.

During the infamous Parsley Massacre in October 1937, under the direct order of the then Dominican President RafaelTrujillo, around 20,000 Haitians and dark-skinned Dominicans were murdered in just five days.

Today, racial discrimination against Haitians manifests itself in a number of ways, including the fact that Haitian descendants earn, on average, 60 per cent less than Dominicans.

The ruling could also lead to the deportation and/or self-deportation of former Dominican citizens to a country they have never known.

These are people with very few ties to Haiti and up until now, they have identified themselves as Dominicans in every way possible.

The court ruling is shocking and has attracted both national and international condemnation. But what will the future hold for these citizens?

If they manage to escape deportation, many more are likely to become exploited slaves in the sugar cane plantations.

The conditions facing Haitian descendants and migrants are already bad, with the former living as second-class citizens and the latter forced to endure inhumane working and living conditions. This ruling means that things will only get worse.

And if sent to Haiti, they will be faced with the almost impossible prospect of finding decent work.

It’s a lose-lose situation for Dominican citizens of Haitian ancestry and sends a terrifying message to all those who court xenophobic attitudes towards migrants elsewhere in the world.

The international community must put pressure on the Dominican government to reverse this brutal ruling. There is too much at stake, not just for Dominicans of Haitian ancestry, but for migrants everywhere who face complicated access to citizenship, despite it being their basic human right to have it.