10/10/2013 12:01 BST | Updated 10/12/2013 05:12 GMT

Dominican Republic Court Ruling Leaves Tens of Thousands Facing a Future of Statelessness

Imagine being born in a country where your parents and grandparents also grew up and then one day being told you are no longer eligible for nationality there. This means you will no longer have access to education, healthcare, a formal job, social security, or even be able to marry or register the births of your children.

This is the situation now faced by tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent, who have been left facing a highly uncertain future following a historical court ruling last week. The case, tried in the Dominican Constitutional Court, concerned Julia Dequis Pierre, a 29-year-old mother of four who was officially registered as Dominican at birth but who the court ruled did not in fact meet the criteria for Dominican nationality.

The ruling puts Ms Dequis Pierre and her four children at risk of becoming 'stateless', or no longer a citizen of any country in the world, and the Court has since asked Dominican authorities to identify similar cases going back as far as 1929.

This ruling has the potential to leave tens of thousands of people stateless or at risk of being deported to Haiti; a country they have likely never set foot in and probably do not speak the language. Anyone with a French-sounding surname may be at risk of investigation, and those with parents or grandparents of Haitian descent may also see their identity papers taken away.

On October 7th President Medina met with a delegation of affected people from the group, a campaigning group supported by Christian Aid partners. Spokesperson Ana Maria Belique said this meeting 'offers a glimmer of hope' to those affected but that no immediate solution was offered, and even the president's expressions of support cannot overturn what is now constitutional law.

The situation on the island goes back to the early twentieth century when Haitian workers were in high demand as labourers on sugarcane plantations in the Dominican Republic. These workers were provided with temporary work visas and usually lived in precarious conditions in dormitories on the edge of the plantation estates. As time passed, their families came to join them and these communities - known as bateys - became much more permanent. When children were born the Dominican constitution (unchanged on this matter until 2010) stated that those born in the country were to be automatically granted Dominican nationality. Dominicans of Haitian descent are now found in urban areas as much as in bateys, and contribute significantly to the Dominican economy.

Anti-Haitianism and discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent in Dominican Republic is unfortunately nothing new. Christian Aid has supported Dominican partner organisations working on defending the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent for over 20-years and is very concerned about the impact this ruling will have on tens of thousands of people who have lived in Dominican Republic all of their lives.

This ruling contradicts a ruling in 2005 by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights against the Dominican government, and also goes flies in the face of other recommendations made by international bodies such as the UN.

Christian Aid partner Centro Bono has stated 'their complete rejection of the sentence which has denationalised more than four generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent, through an interpretation of the country's Magna Carta which violates the principle of retroactive application of the law and splits away from the International rights system.'