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Stateless in the Dominican Republic

Santa Lucia, Dominican Republic - Sitting outside her family’s shack in Santa Lucia, El Seibo province, in the Dominican Republic, 27-year-old Yolanda Alcino is worried. “My family is divided, four of my siblings were never registered here and they have no documentation at all,” she says.

It had been a bittersweet moment for her when she finally received her identity card after a seven-year battle – confirmation that Alcino could stay in the land of her birth. Yet it was no consolation for those of her family whose futures remain uncertain.

A ruling in 2013 by the Dominican constitutional court essentially stripped thousands of people who were born to Haitian migrant parents of their citizenship. The ruling led to a review of the country’s civil registry and birth records going all the way back to 1929.

According to the most recent estimates acquired by Al Jazeera from government officials, the ruling has left about 138,000 people in limbo because they were born to foreign parents or, as in many cases, their parents never registered for or were denied an official birth certificate.

Nearly all of the people affected by the ruling are of Haitian descent,the children of undocumented workers who have been coming to the Dominican Republic to work for generations. Some came legally, some illegally, to harvest sugarcane or work in construction - a vital source of cheap labour for a thriving Dominican economy.

Registration in Dominican Republic

According to government figures, five percent of the population – more than half a million people – are not formally registered in the national registry. After the ruling and in response to an international outcry, Danilo Medina, the Dominican president, issued an executive order in 2013 that led to the setting up of a registration program whereby those born in the country but unregistered, as well as foreign workers, could apply for a formal status.

Many people found the process extremely difficult. Some in remote areas, in particular those who are poor or uneducated, didn’t realize that they had to apply; others found it impossible to recover their papers, were unable to navigate a maze of legal bureaucracy, or simply couldn’t afford to have some documents notarised. Many of those who tried to enrol still have no idea if they succeeded.

Fewer than 9,000 people who found themselves in a similar position to Alcino’s family, actually tried to register. The grace period for the registration closed in February, again raising concerns of mass expulsion.

In June, the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, appealed to the Dominican government not to deport people born in the country who do not have a formal status. The organisation expressed concerned that they would be deported to Haiti, a country which would not recognize them as citizens either.

Adrian Edwards, a UNHCR spokesman, said that ”this would have serious repercussions for all who are affected, and be a serious setback to efforts worldwide to end the problem of statelessness”.

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Dec 29, 2015

Category: DR News |

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Last updated January 14, 2018 at 12:43 AM
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