BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation ) - Dominican Republic president Danilo Medina has sent draft legislation to lawmakers aimed at resolving the citizenship status and legal limbo facing hundreds of thousands of people, a first step that could help restore nationality to Dominicans of Haitian descent born in the country, the United Nations has said.
Last September, Dominican Republic’s top court passed a ruling revoking the citizenship of those born in the country to foreign migrants who did not have a legal residence permit on the grounds their parents were considered to be seasonal workers “in transit”.
Rights groups say the court ruling, along with previous changes made to nationality laws over the past decade, have denied mostly Dominicans of Haitian descent born in the country, their identity documents and stripped them of their nationality, leaving an estimated 200,000 or more stateless.
“This (draft bill) represents an important opportunity for the Congress of the Dominican Republic to enable all persons affected to regain or acquire Dominican nationality in the shortest possible time through the simplest of procedures, and to ease the chronic daily problems that they endure,” Shelly Pitterman, U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) regional representative in Washington, said in a statement on Friday.
The Dominican Republic shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti. The changes to the county’s nationality laws have affected mainly Dominican-born people who are the sons, daughters and grandchildren of Haitian migrants who crossed the border to escape political violence or seek a better life.
A stateless person is not recognised as a citizen by any country in the world. This in turn means stateless people’s basic rights, such as the right to vote, get legally married and own property, are denied.
Without a national identity card, stateless people in the Dominican Republic also find it difficult to access health care, get formal jobs and send their children to school and university.
The draft bill is being considered by the country's lower house.
“UNHCR is satisfied that, depending on how it is applied in practice, the bill provides for a speedy solution for those persons who were already registered as Dominican nationals,” the U.N. agency said in a statement.
“ UNHCR remains concerned, however, that the bill should also effectively redress the situation of the majority of the persons affected by the Court ruling, who were not registered.”