Dominican Republic: Refugee eligibility commission resumes work

Briefing Notes, 22 June 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 22 June 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR welcomes a decision by the Dominican Republic to reactivate its refugee eligibility commission that reviews asylum applications. Known as the CONARE Comision Nacional para Refugiados the commission held its first meeting since 2005 on June 13, reviewing some 19 asylum cases. This breakthrough was timed to coincide with World Refugee Day this week.

The Dominican Republic is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, and enacted national asylum legislation in 1983. It hosts some 725 refugees with over 200 asylum cases that have remained pending with the authorities over the last ten years. The majority of this population is of Haitian nationality, and entered the country seeking protection during the political turmoil of the 1990s and the early 2000s.

The Dominican Republic committed to restart the commission's work at the December 2011 Ministerial meeting in Geneva, following an appeal by High Commissioner António Guterres to President Leonel Fernández during a visit to Santo Domingo.

We hope the authorities will maintain the momentum generated by the important reactivation of the CONARE and encourage the Dominican Government to continue to reduce the backlog of asylum claims, and to proceed to offer migratory regularization for the recognized refugees present in the country.

UNHCR in the Dominican Republic provides technical support to the Government's asylum system, and funds livelihoods, education, and community strengthening programs to support local integration of the refugee population.

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Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic, UNHCR runs programmes that benefit refugees and asylum-seekers from Haiti as well as migrants and members of their family born in the country, some of whom could be stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. Many live in bateyes, which are destitute communities on once thriving sugar cane plantations. The inhabitants have been crossing over from Haiti for decades to work in the sugar trade.

Among these initiatives, UNHCR provides legal aid, academic remedial courses and vocational training for refugees and asylum-seekers. They also support entrepreneurial initiatives and access to micro credit.

UNHCR also has an increased presence in border communities in order to promote peaceful coexistence between Dominican and Haitian populations. The UN refugee agency has found that strengthening the agricultural production capacities of both groups promotes integration and mitigates tension.

Many Haitians and Dominicans living in the dilapidated bateyes are at risk of statelessness. Stateless people are not considered as nationals by any country. This can result in them having trouble accessing and exercising basic rights, including education and medical care as well as employment, travel and housing. UNHCR aims to combat statelessness by facilitating the issuance of birth certificates for people living in the bateyes.

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic