Haiti, Dominican Republic hold talks to resolve citizenship dispute

by Reuters
Friday, 22 November 2013 18:13 GMT

Haitian residents, who have been living and working undocumented in the Dominican Republic cross with their belongings into the Dominican Republic after waiting for four days for the border to be opened, in the Dominican town of Dajabon, January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

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A previous Dominican court ruling had stripped citizenship from hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian descent

By Manuel Jimenez

SANTO DOMINGO, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Haiti and the Dominican Republic have launched talks aimed at resolving a thorny immigration dispute triggered by a Dominican court ruling stripping citizenship from hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian descent, the Caribbean neighbors said on Friday.

The two countries, which share the island of Hispaniola, met in talks hosted by Venezuela in Caracas to settle their differences after the Sept. 23 ruling by the Dominican Republic's Constitutional Court.

Both countries said the Dominican Republic would announce a series of measures in the next few days on the citizenship issue to be followed by another round of talks. They said a joint declaration was reached, but its text was not released.

The court ruling retroactively denied Dominican nationality to anyone born after 1929 who does not have at least one parent of Dominican blood, citing a constitutional clause declaring all others to be in the country illegally or "in transit."

The Dominican Republic has long complained of illegal migration of undocumented workers from its impoverished neighbor, even as it benefits from a steady source of cheap labor.

Most of those affected are the descendants of Haitians who moved to the Dominican Republic to work in the sugar cane fields. Many used a temporary worker's card issued by the former state sugar company as proof of their residence in order to register their offspring.

Dominican President Danilo Medina also convened on Friday a meeting on how the government will implement the ruling.

The Dominican government is facing international pressure over the ruling, with foreign leaders, U.N. agencies, human rights groups and Dominicans in the United States questioning its legal basis.

A network of 25 groups and human rights activists delivered a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last month asking him to use "all available points of leverage" to pressure the Dominican government into reversing the ruling.

"Dialogue will be the appropriate way to resolve any situation regarding people of Haitian origin born in the Dominican Republic affected by the application of the ruling ... issued by the Constitutional Court," the Dominican government said on Friday.

It expressed "willingness to move forward in all measures necessary to ensure the full enjoyment and respect the rights of people of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic."

The Dominican Republic's population of 10 million includes about 458,000 people of Haitian descent, many of whom lack proper documents, according to official figures. About 240,000 of those people of Haitian descent were born in the Dominican Republic.

(Writing by David Adams; Editing by Will Dunham)

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