No papers, no rights in the Dominican Republic: ‘I’m not able to do anything’

By Robin Guittard, Campaigner on the Caribbean at Amnesty International Dominican Republic,

Yesica should be smiling, excited, celebrating. Having recently finished school with top marks she should be getting ready to spend the long summer days by the beach with her friends.

But this 13-year-old girl wasn’t full of the joys of summer when I spoke to her on Saturday in Laguna Salada, a locality in the northern province of Valverde, in the Dominican Republic.

“Summer holidays?” she asked out loud with despair, her expression filled with sadness.

Next year, Yesica will not be allowed to attend school. Last week, she was told she was not going to be registered in school because she has no identity documents in her own country.

When Yesica was born in the Dominican Republic in 2001, the authorities told her father that his Haitian nationality was reason enough to deny his daughter a birth certificate and, in turn, her identity papers.

Next year, Yesica will not be allowed to attend school. Last week, she was told she was not going to be registered in school because she has no identity documents in her own country.
Robin Guittard, Campaigner on the Caribbean at Amnesty International

The decision to keep the top student out of school came like a thunderbolt from a clear sky and left Yesica and her father grasping for answers.

“I want to keep studying. I will be very sad if I cannot continue to go to school,” she said.

Continuing with her education is her best chance to escape the vicious circle of exclusion and extreme poverty that she, and her family, have been trapped in their whole lives.

Without it, her future is so uncertain it is terrifying. The Dominican state is ruining the hopes of Yesica because of her Haitian origin, even though she was born in the Dominican Republic. From next September she will sit at home, she told me, unable to progress.

The Dominican state is ruining the hopes of Yesica because of her Haitian origin, even though she was born in the Dominican Republic. From next September she will sit at home, she told me, unable to progress.
Robin Guittard

“I feel sad and powerless. I would like my daughter to be able to go to university. I want her to advance in life,” Yesica’s father told me.

Dozens of stories
Yesica’s tragic story is repeated over and over again everywhere you look in the Dominican Republic.

She is one of the thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent who have been facing decades of brutal discrimination in their own country.

By denying people born to Haitian parents birth certificates and identity papers, authorities in the Dominican Republic have, for decades, severely restricted their access to school, health care and jobs.

And in a shocking move in September 2013, the authorities ruled that all those with undocumented Haitian parents or grandparents would be stripped of their Dominican nationality outright, rendering them stateless and at risk of expulsion from the country. They applied this decision retroactively until 1929.

For dozens of women and men I spoke with, the lack of a piece of paper means their most basic human rights are completely out of reach.

For dozens of women and men I spoke with, the lack of a piece of paper means their most basic human rights are completely out of reach.
Robin Guittard

China was born in the Dominican Republic in 2000.

She barely talked to me when I met her and, at first, I thought she was extremely shy. But a few minutes later I realized she was in extreme pain because of a severe burn on her arm.

Her family then told me that earlier that morning, she had accidentally spilled burning oil on her arm while cooking eggs. They immediately brought her to the nearest hospital but they were sent back home. Staff at the hospital refused to treat her because she lacked identity documents.

The Ciri family is a Dominican family of Haitian descent. China (far right) and Chinala (center) were born in the Dominican Republic of Haitian parents and are denied access to their identity documents. The Ciri family is a Dominican family of Haitian descent. China (far right) and Chinala (center) were born in the Dominican Republic of Haitian parents and are denied access to their identity documents.
The Ciri family is a Dominican family of Haitian descent. China (far right) and Chinala (center) were born in the Dominican Republic of Haitian parents and are denied access to their identity documents ©Amnesty International

For Gisel, a single mother of five, lacking an ID means she is unable to find a proper job to support her family.

She was born near San Pedro de Macoris in 1979 but she, too, was never registered because her parents were Haitians.

Gisel wants to start a small business to better support her children but without an ID, she is not able to open a bank account, let alone apply for a loan.

“I felt powerless ... I’m not able to do anything,” she told me.

Gisel is a Dominican woman born in 1979 in the Dominican Republic of Haitian parents. She has been denied all her life identity document and therefore her 5 children were born stateless. Gisel is a Dominican woman born in 1979 in the Dominican Republic of Haitian parents. She has been denied all her life identity document and therefore her 5 children were born stateless.
Gisel is a Dominican woman born in 1979 in the Dominican Republic of Haitian parents. She has been denied all her life identity document and therefore her 5 children were born stateless ©Amnesty International

The clock is ticking so fast that for Yesica, China, Gisel and thousands of people like them across the country, the future is chilling.

The clock is ticking so fast that for Yesica, China, Gisel and thousands of people like them across the country, the future is chilling.
Robin Guittard

We are calling on President Danilo Medina to ensure that those born in the Dominican Republic and made stateless in 2013 will not be expelled to a country they don't belong to and that their lives in the Dominican Republic are unlocked with no further delays.

Anything less is just playing with people’s lives.

Read more:

‘Everyone is afraid here’ – Dominican Republic’s looming crisis of mass expulsions (Blog, 18 June 2015)

Take action!
Dominican Republic: Unlock the futures of the Dominicans of Haitian descent