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This photostory exposes the realities of life for seven young Dominicans of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic. Photographs by Dominique Telemaque. Text written by Paula Nieto.
‘I am Dominican and I want to have my documents,’ she says.
Though born in the Dominican Republic from Haitian parents 26 years ago, Elena cannot work or study. Her case is difficult: officially, her family has not existed for generations. Her father, born in Haiti, migrated to the Dominican Republic in 1960 and worked in this country until his death.
Elena has a document from Ramón Santana hospital in San Pedro de Macorís proving she was born there. However, this is not enough to register in the Civil Registry. First, her mother needs to be registered. To start the process, Elena’s family paid 1,000 Dominican pesos (22USD) to get a copy of Elena’s mother Haitian birth certificate. After this payment they were asked for more and more documents, which were difficult to access. Elena’s mother has now given up. She is tired of struggling for so long and being mistreated by Dominican officials.
None of Elena’s six siblings were able to register under the naturalization process, nor even Elena’s son. Another generation that does not exist for the Dominican government. Elena does not go out of her house as she is afraid of being deported to Haiti. She is unable to continue with her life. ‘I am Dominican and I want to have my documents,’ she says.
When Estefany was 18, she requested her ID documents to study education at university. Since then, she has been involved in a slow process of going back and forth to the official centres of the Central Electoral Board to be recognised as a Dominican citizen.
When Estefany was 18, she requested her ID documents to study education at university. Since then, she has been involved in a slow process of going back and forth to the official centers of the Central Electoral Board to be recognized as a Dominican citizen. Throughout this process, unable to enrol at a university, she has taken courses on human rights, documentation, health and IT. She also started accompanying other community members that faced the same situation as she did.
Three weeks after the government passed Naturalization Law 169/14, Estefany obtained her ID document. This caused mixed feelings – happiness to finally obtain her ID document, on the one hand, but also sorrow for the injustice that other community members are suffering, including their fear of the possibility of arbitrary detention and deportation, and anxiety for her immediate future. Seeing the problems that her community still suffers, despite the slight improvement in their situation, she decided to study law. Now Estefany wants to support other denationalized Dominicans of Haitian descent, who continue to have their basic human rights violated.
Every 15 to 20 days he goes to a registry office to arrange his documents. ‘Come back tomorrow’ is invariably the response.
Franklyn, 26, would love to work in the hospitality industry and study tourism. However, he has been waiting since he was 19 years old for a document to prove he has legal status in the country he was born. Since finishing A levels in 2011, he has waited and despaired. Every 15 to 20 days he goes to a registry office to arrange his documents. ‘Come back tomorrow’ is invariably the response.
Without his ID card, Franklyn cannot study, work or plan his future. For him, not having documents means burdening his mother with more responsibilities. Her having to work to sustain him frustrates Franklyn. Despite all these challenges, he has not stopped fighting. Two years ago he started studying English and dreams about being a dad ‘before I am too old’, and of visiting Canada, where his brother lives.
Franklyn is one of the people affected by the ‘Book of Foreigners’ – one of the thousands whose lives have been put on hold by this slow, expensive and demoralizing bureaucratic process.
NOTE: A week after this interview Franklyn obtained his ID document after a long trip to Bahoruco, in the south of the Dominican Republic. Now he plans to move to Bávaro or Punta Cana to work in the hospitality industry. His eyes sparkle while holding the shiny ID card finally, relief after so many years of anguish and despair.
‘They treat me different,’ he says, ‘because they judge me by my colour.’
Even with documentation, Dominicans of Haitian descent are still at risk of being deported to Haiti. Glenol and Mélida, 23, only have their birth certificates, which they firmly keep as proof of belonging to the country where they were born – the Dominican Republic. However, they do not have Dominican nationality because their documents are still being transcribed.
Glenol came closest to being deported a few weeks ago. He was working, watering and planting grass, when a migration van appeared. After he was asked for his documents, he showed them his birth certificate and his student ID card. Though informed that there would not be any problem once his documents had been checked, he was taken in a bus halfway to the border with Haiti – a country Glenol has never even visited – before being released. Other people in the bus were not so lucky. The experience has left Glenol fearful and more aware than ever of the discrimination he faces. ‘They treat me different,’ he says, ‘because they judge me by my colour.’
‘In this country,’ she says, ‘you do not exist if you do not have an ID card.’
Higna finished school when she was 16 dreaming of studying maths at university. However, her life ground to a halt when, after she requested her ID documents, she was told that she could not receive them as she was the ‘daughter of foreigners’. The only solution was to gather an endless number of documents – a costly and time-consuming process that many members of her community cannot afford to undertake.
Time passed and Higna’s hopes were no closer to being realized. When she finally gathered all the documents required, she brought them to the Central Electoral Board (CEB). Two months later, at her next appointment at the CEB, they informed her that her documents were lost and that she had to restart the process again. In the meantime, she lost the chance of a scholarship to study because of her lack of documentation.
It took another year before she was able to obtain her ID documents. After so much time in a limbo, Higna’s relief was enormous: ‘I felt frozen, like I did not exist, and my ID documents brought me back to life.’ Finally, she could study accounting or maths at university. However, no one will give her back those years of waiting. ‘In this country,’ she says, ‘you do not exist if you do not have an ID card.’
Four months ago his birth registry received a big red stamp: “CANCELLED”.
Nelson, 26, was born in Dominican territory. His parents, of Haitian origin, registered him with their identification as sugar cane workers. Now Nelson has started a nationalization process. Four months ago, however, his birth registry received a big red stamp: “CANCELLED”. The last time he went to the Central Electoral Board, after travelling for two hours from San Pedro de Macorís to Santo Domingo, he was told that the person leading on his case was not in the building and that he should come back another day.
Meanwhile, craving a stable job and a decent salary, he takes on small jobs. Though he feels he is doing all he can, Nelson does not understand what is going on with his documents, nor why the authorities continue to reject them.