Beloved by celebrities and holiday-makers, the Dominican Republic is one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean. A quick Google search reveals adverts for ‘boutique-chic’ hotels, merengue music and poolside views.
Statelessness doesn’t even come into the equation.
Yet this is the situation now faced by tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent, who have until 28 October to prove their Dominican nationality or else face deportation.
It all started last year with the introduction of Law 168-13.
The case, tried in the Dominican Constitutional Court, concerned Julia Dequis Pierre, a 29-year-old mother of four who was officially registered as Dominican at birth but who, the court ruled, did not in fact meet the criteria for Dominican nationality.
The ruling put Ms Dequis Pierre and her four children at risk of becoming ‘stateless’ - no longer a citizen of any country - and the government has since restricted Dominican citizenship to those born to at least one Dominican parent since 1929.
This has left over 250,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent in 'legal limbo': unable to complete education, access healthcare or even secure a formal job.
In short, their lives have been put on hold.
Following pressure from our partners Centro Bonó and MUDHA, the government introduced a second law in May, Law 169-14, which stated that citizenship will be given if individuals can prove that their birth was officially registered at the time.
However, this law ignored the fact that many Dominicans of Haitian descent were either unable to register births between 1929 and 2007, or were actively prevented from doing so.
These individuals did not receive birth certificates and will not be able to prove their nationality - despite the fact that the Dominican constitution, prior to 2010, stated that when children were born in the country they were to be automatically granted Dominican nationality.
Even for those who are registered, there is still the cost of retrieving documents - estimated at up to £7 to £40 per person. This is a sum many on the poverty line simply cannot afford.
The ruling has the potential to leave tens of thousands of people stateless or at risk of being deported to Haiti - a country they have likely never set foot in and probably do not speak the language.
Discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent
For individuals like Epifanía, the ruling is nothing new. Like many Dominicans of Haitian descent, she has struggled to get full recognition as a Dominican citizen.
‘All my life I’ve been voting in election after election. However last time I went to vote, I didn’t appear on the register. I was on the banned list.'
In the Dominican Republic, every individual must show a copy of their birth certificate each time they get a new job, apply for a passport or renew their ID card.
Discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent still exists.
As Epifanía explains, this further complicates the process: ‘My sister and I went to the Civil Registry Office to get a copy of my birth certificate for a passport.
'When we got there the person looking through the registry told us: “We don’t give documents to Haitians”. But I am not Haitian, I’m Dominican.’
Calls for an extension
Christian Aid and its Dominican partner organisations have called for an extension to the 28 October deadline.
Our partners have also called for the Dominican authorities to improve the quality of services provided in registry offices and for new offices to be set up in order to reach more people affected by the ruling.
It is hoped that this will allow a greater number of citizens/foreign citizens residing in Dominican territory to register and obtain Dominican citizenship.