The people of the island of Hispaniola endure an uneasy coexistence, their two countries intertwined by centuries of colonization, conquest and racial tension that have left deep wounds. In recent years, controversial court rulings and laws have renewed tensions. For people of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic, a recently introduced ruling brings the risk of statelessness or deportation. Lack of identity documents and difficulties in obtaining them mean that Dominicans of Haitian descent may become stateless, while Haitian immigrants are not able to obtain an immigration status because they have been unable to submit all required documentation, or have been denied regular immigration status. This impacts tens of thousands of men women and children, many of whom were born and lived there entire lives in the Dominican Republic.
This challenge comes on top of the many crises across the border in Haiti itself -- violent political unrest, cholera, the 2016 hurricane, the 2010 earthquake. The proposed Dominican law has caused problems in both countries. In Haiti, there is anxiety that an already overburdened and barely functional government will have to deal with tens of thousands of new Haitians who lack paperwork, resources and guidance on how to adjust to their new situation. In the Dominican Republic, even people who are naturalized citizens face harassment and threats from those who think they might be Haitian.
Against this background, an UNDEF-funded project in the Dominican Republic works for a rights-based political culture for the political participation of both Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian immigrants. The project, implemented by by Oxfam Intermón, works to improve access to identity and migration documents, while building capacity among impacted communities. It uses strategies for direct support and accompaniment of affected persons; advocacy and lobbying with relevant institutions responsible; and forming groups of self-help and community reporters.
UNDEF Senior Programme Officer Mikiko Sawanishi visited the project in November 2016, attending a workshop in one of the project locations in Tamayo, western Dominican Republic.