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Stateless in the Caribbean

Monday, July 6, 2015 - 18:34
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This is a story of a family who have been living and working in Dominican Republic for ten years. Their youngest daughter, born and raised in the country was deprived of having any legal document to prove her citizenship.

In 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court issued the “TC 168-13” ruling, a decision that revoked the citizenship of undocumented migrants since 1929. “La Sentencia” as the decision is called, affects around 250,000 people, the majority among them being of Haitian ascendancy.

Due to pressure from regional bodies such as the CARICOM, United Nations and the State Department highlighting both the anti-Haitian nature of the decision and its clear violation of people’s basic human rights, the Dominican Republic has put in place the National Plan for the Regularization of Illegal Foreigners in the country. Many people have not in fact been able to register under this Plan that expired last June 17, 2015. Most of them are now facing deportation.

ActionAid Haiti has been actively involved in a Task Force composed of government entities, NGOs and other civil society actors to draft a Preparedness Plan in a way to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to people enduring deportation. According to information provided by civil society organization located in the border, around 500 people are being deported weekly.

The story below is about one of the thousands of families that are affected in this unjust ruling. The Ulysse family tells ActionAid Haiti how this decision complicates the relation between two countries and how it dramatically disrupted the lives of thousands of families in Dominican Republic.

“There is no work in Haiti. So my wife and I took our girl Shannon who was just 2 years old at that time and decided to move to the Dominican Republic in 2005 to look for a better life. We did not go there illegally. We had a Dominican visa”, says Jocelyn Ulysse.

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They refused to provide Dominican birth certificates to children whose parents are Haitians. Look at this document. It says that Deborah my second kid is a foreigner. But, in reality she’s Dominican. She was born in the Dominican Republic, claims Geraldine Ulysse.

“ There is racism in the intent”, adds Mr. Ulysse, supporting his wife’s position.  

According to him, the regularization process is a trap and is very costly. “ They’ve asked us to submit identity documents, which we have done. And then, they ask for more documents. After submitting documents after documents and spending a lot of money in the process, they reject our application with no explanation.”

Indeed, the situation is very complicated and even more so for many illegal Haitian migrants in the country, who unlike Mrs. Ulysse, do not possess any identity document. The Haitian government has been very slow in putting mechanisms in place to provide identity documents to this category of people. 

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Haiti is a weak state, so that makes it easy for the DR to commit human rights abuses against Haitians. The state needs to have a plan for Haitians long before deportations start taking place”, summons Mr. Ulysse. “ Also, the international community should open their eyes more to what is happening, he emphasizes.     

Life in the DR at times has been very stressful for the Ulysse family. In the school where Mrs. Ulysse teaches, the kids have been very unfriendly to her just because they know she’s Haitian. Sometimes, they boycott her classes and ask: “Teacher, when are you leaving? Haven’t you heard about the situation? When are you leaving?” I have stayed that long only because of my kids where in school.

In fact, their children were bullied in school. School indoctrination teaches Dominican children to see Haitians as a threat to their identity and country. Children with Haitian origin are also exposed to anti-Haitian manifestations of the larger Dominican society. 

“One day, Shannon was watching the TV and she saw a group of people committing acts of violence against a group of Haitians. She was so scared that she started screaming, begging me to bring her back to Haiti immediately”, relates Mrs. Ulysse with sadness in her voice.

“I am not working now that I am in Haiti, but I feel good to be here”, continues Mrs. Ulysse.

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Through this ugly situation, the family hasn’t lost their resilience and optimism.“ We are a strong family. We will survive”, says Mrs. Ulysse. In the meantime, the enthusiasm in the eyes of Shannon and Deborah was visible. Shannon needs that enthusiasm to continue playing her trumpet with great dexterity and Deborah to excel in school, finding delight in her love for mathematics.

Declaring people ‘stateless’ deprives them of their basic civil rights. Rights that is essential in every human being, regardless of class, race and gender. No citizen should be denied of identity documents or citizenship based on unjust laws.

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