U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Dominican Republic

  There were more than 600 known refugees in the Dominican Republic at the end of 1997, mostly Haitians. During the year, 37 persons applied for asylum in the Dominican Republic. Of these, 6 were recognized as refugees, including 3 Russians from Chechnya, 2 Cubans, and 1 Haitian. Another 31 were rejected, 19 of whom were Haitians. Asylum Procedure The Dominican Republic is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol. Asylum procedures are based on Presidential Decree Number 1569 of 1983, as amended by Decree Number 2330 of 1984. The National Commission for Refugees (NCR) adjudicates asylum claims. Asylum seekers submit applications to the National Office for Refugees (NOR) within the Directorate of Migration, which refers the cases to an NCR technical subcommission. Based on the subcommission's findings, the NOR may recommend that the general director of migration issue the asylum seeker a 60-day, renewable permit for up to six months while the case is pending. The NCR is to make a first-instance refugee status determination within 30 days. Asylum applicants rejected in the first instance have seven days to seek an NCR review. The NCR also informs UNHCR of its decision and allows UNHCR to seek review of negative first-instance decisions. The NCR itself, rather than another administrative or judicial body, carries out the review and makes a final status determination. Pending that decision, asylum seekers cannot work. Restrictive Measures The Dominican Republic generally does not detain asylum seekers, although the Directorate of Migration does have its own detention cells in common prisons for undocumented aliens who have not registered asylum claims. In June, the Dominican Republic and Cuba re-established consular relations and signed a migration agreement to regulate travel between the two countries. The agreement reportedly provided for the repatriation of persons entering either country from the other without proper documents. On July 7, USCR asked the Dominican government to clarify the reported provisions relating to repatriation, and to uphold its obligations as a signatory to the Refugee Convention and Protocol not to return refugees against their will to a place where they could be persecuted. The letter requested the Dominican authorities to "give the asylum seekers an opportunity to present their claims." The Dominican ambassador to the United States replied on July 21, saying, "The reports you have received are wrong. The Dominican Republic and Cuba, which had no official relations, decided recently to establish a consular relationship intended to facilitate and make transparent the movement of people between both countries. No Cubans have or will be sent back to their country against their will." Many Haitians live and work in the Dominican Republic, but no credible estimates of their number exist, in part, because the number is constantly changing. The number usually given is about a half million. There is also no way to determine how many might credibly fear persecution if returned to Haiti. Reportedly, individual Haitians are deported daily. The government often deports Haitians arbitrarily, giving them (and persons presumed to be Haitians) no meaningful opportunity to establish refugee claims or to show otherwise that they have a legal right to remain in the Dominican Republic. Human Rights Watch documented the case of one dark-skinned citizen of the Dominican Republic, Manuel Antonio EstÉban Fermin, deported on September 23; military officials destroyed his identity documents before expelling him. Relatively few Haitians, even among those who have resided in the Dominican Republic for many years, have proper documentation, and, consequently, many of the children and grandchildren of Haitians born in the Dominican Republic have no recognized citizenship. Periodically, the military has rounded up large numbers of Haitians, and presumed Haitians, seemingly at random, and summarily deported them. In January and February, international observers said that the government deported between 15,000 and 25,000 Haitians, according to the U.S. Department of State's human rights report. The army conducts round-ups and deportations of Haitians, generally acting on its own initiative without informing or consulting with the Directorate of Migration. According to UNHCR, 19 Haitian refugees voluntarily repatriated in 1997, of whom UNHCR assisted 11. UNHCR had no information that any of the thousands of Haitians deported during the year had been seeking asylum in the Dominican Republic. At year's end, the Dominican Republic continued to provide asylum to 602 refugees and asylum seekers of concern to UNHCR.

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