Dear Friends and Colleagues:
I wanted to brief you on my short trip this summer to the Dominican Republic, during which I met with President Lionel Fernandez, visited with vulnerable Haitians who were receiving care in Santo Domingo for injuries caused by the January earthquake in Haiti, and traveled to the community of Palmarejo, home to several thousand Dominicans of Haitian descent. I was accompanied on the July 26-28 visit by PRM program officer Jessica Yutacom, and PRM staff assistant Lauren Diekman.
In the first instance, I traveled to Santo Domingo to convey the continuing support and appreciation of the U.S. government for the role that the Dominican Republic has played in providing assistance to the government of Haiti and the Haitian people in the aftermath of the earthquake, and to discuss with international organizations the status of U.S.-supported humanitarian efforts near the Haiti-Dominican Republic border. As you know, President Fernandez was the first foreign head of government to visit Haiti after the earthquake, and his government has pledged some $60 million in humanitarian assistance, as well as some $50 million in support of the construction of a university in Cap Haitien. The Dominican Republic also hosted a "World Summit on the Future of Haiti" in June, and President Fernandez's efforts indicate a clear commitment to solidarity and engagement with the government and people of Haiti.
Beyond the substantial and comprehensive program of assistance the Obama Administration is providing within Haiti, we are also supporting targeted assistance focused largely at or near the Haitian-Dominican border. In addition to supporting the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) protection and assistance activities for internally displaced persons in Haiti, we are funding UNHCR programs that provide care and medical assistance to Haitian families who sought relief from the earthquake in the Dominican Republic. We are supporting UNICEF programs to provide education, maternal and child health care, nutrition and counter-trafficking in the border area. We are also supporting the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in the improvement of water and sanitation in the border areas, enhancement of health systems in Port de Paix and Cap Haitien, and assistance to the Ministries of Health in Haiti and the Dominican Republic to address the increased demand for medical services resulting from the earthquake. Finally, Administration support to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) focuses on vulnerable Haitians at the border, income generation activities in Port de Paix to discourage dangerous out-migration by boat, and support for humane reception services for Haitians who are repatriated.
Finally, I discussed with Dominican officials a range of migration-related issues affecting individuals of Haitian descent who have been living in the Dominican Republic for many years or even generations. In recent years, constitutional and legislative provisions, as well as administrative directives, have severely limited the ability of individuals of Haitian descent to affirm claims of citizenship. To be sure, the issues are complicated, but there is no dispute that hundreds of thousands of individuals who previously exercised a variety of rights traditionally associated with citizenship are now unable to do so and currently are in a very difficult and uncertain situation.
Of course, issues of citizenship are the prerogative of national governments, but broadly accepted and internationally recognized principles of due process and the universal right to nationality should inform decision-making, and the State Department and a range of international organizations have valuable programs and expertise to offer on issues relating to nationality and statelessness. I had useful and productive conversations on these questions with Dominican officials, and felt that those with whom I met appreciated the need for just and humane resolutions. In addition, and following my return, I met with Sonia Pierre, the founder and leader of the Movement for Dominican Women of Haitian Descent (MUDHA) and a recipient of the Secretary of State's 2010 International Women of Courage Award. Sonia and I had very valuable conversations about the impact of these issues on people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic.
While challenging, these questions are not unique to the Dominican Republic – issues of nationality and statelessness exist in every region of the world. The State Department’s Humanitarian Information Unit recently released a map that illustrates the truly global scope of these issues – the map can be found by clicking on the image of the map at the following link: http://www.state.gov/j/prm.
We look forward to continuing dialogue with the Dominican Government and others on these critical questions.
Many thanks, and kind regards,
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration