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Caricom urged to speak out for Haitians facing deportation in DR

haitiSANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic--Outrage is growing over the Dominican Republic's move to deport hundreds of thousands of Haitian migrants and Haitians born in that Spanish-speaking country, with warnings that it will lead to a humanitarian crisis and calls for the Caribbean Community Caricom to advocate on behalf of those affected by the policy.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says refusing citizenship to people in the Dominican Republic and subjecting them to deportation is a "stain" on Caribbean civilisation.

"What is happening in the Dominican Republic is simply unacceptable," he said. "It is unacceptable to have a public policy in relation to citizenship, grounded in ethnicity or your national origins."

Gonsalves made the comments to the media in St. Vincent on his return from the European Union-Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (EU-CELAC) Summit in Brussels where the matter was discussed.

Up until 2010, anyone born on Dominican Republic soil was automatically given citizenship, but a change to the constitution has denied citizenship to children born of undocumented parents. Then, in September 2013, the Dominican Republic's Constitutional Tribunal handed down a ruling denying citizenship to anyone born in the country since 1929, if his or her parents had been "in transit," affecting not only short-term visitors but long-term, undocumented workers as well.

The government recently launched a programme offering legal residency to Haitians born in the Dominican Republic but the deadline for applications ended last week with thousands still unable to register.

In Trinidad, one of the opposition parties, Congress of the People (COP), issued a statement condemning the Dominican Republic's stance.

"The mass deportation of persons who have lived, worked and owned property in that country of their birth not only deprives them of their rights, but will also worsen the humanitarian situation in Haiti," COP leader Prakash Ramadhar said.

"We must all do our part to maintain the pressure on the Government of the Dominican Republic to permanently halt the threatened deportation. As a Caribbean nation, we must join with our Caricom and international neighbours to demand that the Dominican Republic government take all political, legislative and other measures to restore the citizenship rights of these [Dominicanos – Ed.]."

Ramadhar added: "We have written to the Caricom Secretariat calling on them to take all steps necessary in concert with the United Nations and other international human rights bodies and all governments to continue the strongest measures to force the Government of the Dominican Republic to meet its obligations to respect the rights of its citizens and right this terrible wrong."

Raise Your Voice (St. Lucia), a non-governmental organisation, said it was particularly concerned about the plight of women and children who would become "stateless."

It said the move would disenfranchise more than 200,000 Haitians who were born in the Dominican Republic and many more who have lived there for decades.

"This situation will escalate an already dire humanitarian crisis that has existed in Haiti and was exacerbated after the earthquake of 2010. We should be mindful that in a refugee crisis children and women are always at risk of being sexually violated, abused, victimised and mistreated," it said.

The organisation urged St. Lucia Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony and Minister for External Affairs Alva Baptist to lead the way at next month's 36th Caricom Heads of Government meeting in Barbados to "ensure that Caricom becomes a more vocal advocate for these victims who are being persecuted by the Dominican Republic."

"We believe that without Caricom's effective involvement, this situation will create a devastating humanitarian crisis in the Caribbean region similar to those in the Middle East and Europe, and we therefore urge our leaders to ensure that the UN Secretary-General who is slated to be present at the Caricom meeting do all in his power to put an end to this heartless action by President Danilo Medina Sánchez of the Dominican Republic. No state should have the power to brand groups of existing citizens stateless, and no other states should acquiesce in their pretensions to do so," the organisation said.

The Government of the Dominican Republic is now offering a free bus service to take migrants to the border with Haiti, ahead of the deportations. The service, which began Monday, will run for two weeks. ~ Caribbean360 ~

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