By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - United Nations human rights experts have urged the Dominican Republic to prevent arbitrary deportations of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent, and to address allegations of racial profiling during deportations.
A new Dominican immigration law that came into effect last month requires anyone lacking documents - mostly Haitian migrants and Dominican-born people of Haitian descent - to register for residency under a "regularization" program.
The Dominican government says there will be no mass and/or unlawful deportations, but those unable to register and lacking identity documents risk expulsion.
Since June 21, some 19,000 people have streamed across the border into Haiti amid fears of harassment, and of deportation which officially starts in August, the United Nations said in a statement.
"No one should be deported when there are legal and valid reasons to stay," Mireille Fanon Mendes-France, head of the U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, said in the statement on Tuesday.
"Migrants are entitled to protection and Dominicans of Haitian descent have the right to reside safely in the territory, as well as children born in the Dominican Republic who are legally registered."
Over the years, hundreds of thousands of Haitians have crossed into the wealthier Dominican Republic to escape political violence, seek a better life and find refuge after a 2010 earthquake flattened the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.
Many work as cheap laborers in construction, agriculture and domestic work.
COURT RULING CRITICIZED
Rights groups say the new law could impact hundreds of thousands of migrants and a number of Dominican-born people of Haitian descent who lost citizenship after a constitutional court ruling in 2013 that has faced international criticism.
That ruling reversed the right of citizenship for foreigners born in the Dominican Republic, stripping children of Haitian migrants of Dominican nationality and rendering them stateless, with no country recognizing them as citizens.
The 2013 court ruling and the recent crackdown on migrants have raised diplomatic tension between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.
The Dominican government has said changes to its nationality laws are aimed at tackling decades of illegal migration from Haiti.
Eight out of every 10 migrants, mostly Haitian, live in the Dominican Republic illegally, according to the Dominican presidential website.
Human rights groups say the move is rooted in longstanding racism and xenophobia in the Dominican Republic towards darker-skinned Haitians.
The U.N. experts say difficulties in obtaining documents for the regularization process and lack of information on deportations "have instilled fear".
They called on Dominican authorities to put in place legislation and other measures to fight discrimination against people of Haitian descent.
"The Dominican Republic does not recognize the existence of a structural problem of racism and xenophobia, but it must address these issues as a matter of priority so the country can live free from tension and fear," Mendes-France said.
(Reporting By Anastasia Moloney, Editing by Alisa Tang; please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)