There were 500 known refugees in the Dominican Republic at the end of 2000. During the year, 101 persons applied for asylum in the Dominican Republic; nearly all were from Haiti. No asylum cases were decided during the year.
The Dominican Republic is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol, and has enacted implementing legislation. According to regulations, asylum seekers submit applications to the National Office for Refugees (NOR) within the Directorate of Migration. The NOR is responsible for receiving asylum claims and issuing documentation to asylum seekers.
The NOR refers all asylum cases to the National Commission for Refugees (NCR), which is charged with adjudicating asylum claims. Asylum seekers cannot work. Although the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) may ask the NCR to review decisions, there is no formal procedure for appeal or judicial review.
Although the Dominican Republic has an established asylum procedure, the government made no refugee status determinations during the year, contributing to a growing backlog of asylum cases. The backlog was worsened by the influx of Haitian asylum seekers that resulted from escalating violence in Haiti during the year. In July, the NCR met for the first time since 1993. The commission reviewed over 65 cases, but did not make any decisions.
Since asylum seekers cannot work in the Dominican Republic, the backlog placed a significant burden on the growing number of persons with pending claims. Jesuit Refugee Services, a nongovernmental organization that assists Haitians in Santo Domingo, asserted that resources for identifying, orienting, and integrating Haitian asylum seekers were "sadly inadequate."
The Dominican Republic generally does not detain asylum seekers, although the Directorate of Migration has its own detention cells in common prisons reserved for undocumented aliens who have not registered asylum claims.
At the border, asylum seekers are generally allowed to enter and apply for refugee status. However, the government periodically closes the border for political reasons, blocking Haitians from seeking asylum. The Dominican Republic closed the border in December in response to increasingly unstable political conditions in Haiti.
More than 1 million Haitians live and work in the Dominican Republic; approximately half are undocumented. Most Haitian workers harvest sugar cane and coffee. Although the Dominican constitution grants citizenship to children born on Dominican soil, children born to parents who are "in transit" are denied citizenship. The Dominican government considers Haitian migrants – even those who have lived in the Dominican Republic for decades – to be "in transit." As a result, few Haitians in the Dominican Republic have any form of legal documentation, and as many as 200,000 Haitian children born in the Dominican Republic may be stateless.
Throughout 2001, Dominican security forces repatriated undocumented Haitian nationals believed to be in the country illegally, although in significantly lower numbers than in 2000. In December, the Directorate of Migration reported that it had repatriated 9,047 Haitians during the year. In addition, the armed forces carried out mass deportations, claiming to have repatriated about 36,000 Haitians in the first three months of the year.
No reliable figures exist on how many Haitians might credibly fear persecution if returned to Haiti. Reportedly, the Dominican Republic deports many Haitians without providing them a meaningful opportunity to establish refugee claims or to prove that they have a legal right to remain in the Dominican Republic.