Dominican Republic Leaves Children Of Haitian Immigrants In Legal Limbo

In the sugar cane fields
In the sugar cane fields
Jean-Michel Caroit

SANTO DOMINGO – In a soft voice, Elena Lorac tells her Kafkaesque story. Born 23 years ago in the midst of the Sabana Grande de Boya sugar cane plantations, 90 kilometers north of Santo Domingo, the young woman is stateless.

Dominican authorities won’t give her a cedula (an ID card), using the excuse that her parents are migrants who came from Haiti to work on Dominican state plantations and who never put their papers in order. “Without a cedula, I can’t do anything, I can’t buy a mobile phone, or open a bank account, or sign up for university,” she says.

Elena wants to study to become a teacher in order to help her mother, who lives alone with her four young brothers and sisters. “She lives in poverty, with God’s help, and she has breast cancer, with no insurance,” says the young girl.

For several months, armed with her birth certificate, Elena was sent from office to office, until March 2010, when an employee at the Junta Central Electoral (JCE), the state registry office, told her she couldn’t get a cedula because her parents “had Haitian names.”

“She told me to go to the Haitian embassy and to declare myself Haitian, but I was born here. I don’t speak Creole or French, I don’t know anybody there, I’ve never been there,” says Elena.

Getting worse

No one knows how many descendants of Haitians born on Dominican soil are in the same legal limbo as Elena. “There hasn’t been any census, but according to several estimates, they are almost 300,000, a majority of whom aren’t registered,” says Francisco Leonardo, a young lawyer who works for Reconocido. This NGO fights for the recognition of the rights of Dominicans of Haitian origin, with the help of the Jesuit help service for refugees and migrants (SJRM).

“The Junta Central refuses to give ID papers on the basis of phenotypical profiles and parents’ names. It lets procedures drag on for years under the pretext of investigation, while the life of the identity seeker is paralyzed,” says the lawyer.

With Reconocido’s help, two groups - one of 28 and the other of 101 Dominicans of Haitian origin - recently won a legal battle in San Pedro de Macoris and El Seibo, in the East. The courts said the JCE “violated the fundamental rights” of the plaintiffs and ordered that it give them cedulas. Far from complying, the JCE undertook an intimidation campaign against young Dominicans of Haitian origin and appealed the decision. “The JCE is using a Supreme Court decision from December 2005 that said that the children of illegal or transiting migrants were not Dominican,” says Leonardo, who says he is ready to continue the fight at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The Supreme Court interpretation, which was questioned by prominent jurists, was inscribed in the new Constitution of 2010 by President Leonel Fernandez. He is finishing his third term on August 16, and has entrusted immigration policies to the National Progressive Force (FNP).

Founded by the lawyer Vinicio “Vincho” Castillo – one of Fernandez’s closest advisors – the FNP never ceases to denounce the perils of the “Haitian invasion” and “the great power conspiracy” to merge Haiti and the Dominican Republic, who share the Hispaniola island.

President Fernandez named José Ricardo Taveras, one of the main FNP leaders, to lead the General Migration office. Last June, he published a decree that excluded 30,000 students from schools because their parents were undocumented Haitians. The director had to back peddle after the measure created an outcry.

Pushed into illegality

Created without any consultation, the new migration law also elicited strong reactions. The number of illegal Haitian migrants has continued to increase in recent decades, with the complicity of paid border authorities. Here again there are no official statistics available, and the most common estimate of the number of illegal Haitians is at least one million, approximately 10% of the Dominican population.

For a long time they were concentrated on the sugar plantations, which were mostly state-owned, but they have progressively left this declining industry over the past 20 years. Worn out by the exhausting work in the cane fields, the oldest braceros demonstrated these past few weeks to ask for their 5,117 pesos (106 euros) in monthly pension benefits, which the state owes them but has not yet paid.

Most of the undocumented Haitians now work in the rice, banana or coffee industries, as well as construction. For its large infrastructure projects, like the Santo Domingo subway, the state is still an important employer of illegal labor, either directly or through sub-contractors. Agricultural producers and real estate promoters denounce what they say is the excessive cost of obtaining documents for illegal workers they believe are essential for their activity.

“The current FNP leaders have a bad understanding of immigration realities, and the policies they advocate can only cause more illegality and human rights violations,” says father Mario Serrano, who leads the SJRM.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!