Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Contesting Discrimination and Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Contesting Discrimination and Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

Article excerpt

Many decades of unregulated migration of Haitians who have come to live and work in the Dominican Republic have resulted in a significant population whose status is uncertain and who are vulnerable to widespread discrimination and abuses of human rights.

In the Dominican Republic, the questions of birth registration and nationality are closely entwined. As is common in Latin America, the rule of jus soli here means that a Dominican birth certificate has become the evidence of nationality for children who are born in the country. The birth must be registered for the individual to be able to apply for a cédula (identity card) or a passport. A birth certificate also provides access to a host of other rights and special protections for the child, such as protection against trafficking, child labour or early marriage.

Civil registry officials are charged with deterrnining whether the child who has been brought before them to have his/her birth registered is eligible for Dominican nationality. If the official decides that the child does not qualify for Dominican nationality - such as in the case of unauthorised migrants from Haiti - they will refuse to register the birth and there is no clear appeal system against such a decision. The right to birth registration is thus equated to the right to Dominican nationality and denial of birth registration has become the mechanism for denial of nationality to children of irregular Haitian migrants.


Dominicans hold deep-rooted prejudices against Haitians. They perceive Dominican identity as European, and above all Hispanic, in spite of the fact that Dominicans have African roots too. Dominican xenophobia had its most violent expression in 1937 when the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo ordered the military to carry out a massacre of Haitian nationals and DominicoHaitians in the border provinces; some 6,000 people were killed.

Almost fifty years after the overthrow of the Trujillo regime, xenophobia and racism are much less prevalent and virulent but there is still widespread ignorance and prejudice. Political leaders are reluctant to take a lead on the issue of Haitian migration for fear of being accused of betraying national interests. Successive governments have virtually failed in the task of introducing a legal framework compatible with international norms. Most political party leaders are reluctant to address the question and this is compounded by the attitudes of powerful groups in the private sector who have a vested interest in maintaining an unregulated flow of cheap and docile migrant labour in agriculture, construction and tourism. These factors have placed a particular burden on civil society practitioners in the human rights movement, both internationally and in the country. This movement originated in the 1980s in the campaign against the abuse of migrant cane cutters. It continues today but has broadened the focus to encompass Haitian migrants and their descendents in the country as a whole. One notable change in the movement in recent years is that Dominican NGOs now play the lead role, with international partners providing support, rather than vice versa.1

According to the Dominican Republic's 2004 Migration Law, a regularisation process for long-term irregular immigrants should have taken place - giving citizenship or legal residence to 'non residents' who meet certain requirements - before the law was implemented but the Dominican government has not produced any regularisation plan to date. Until recently there was no alternative civil register or birth certificate for those children whose birthright claim to legally exist is negated. However, in early 2007, the Central Electoral Board established a Foreign Register for children born to undocumented foreign mothers.

For over a decade pro-migrant activists have paid increasing attention to and challenged in a variety of ways the denial of Dominican nationality to children of Haitian origins (or suspected of being of Haitian origins) born in the Dominican Republic. …

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