Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Board receives report on situation of Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

As one of two reports centering on the Dominican Republic, Doris Abdullah, the Church of the Brethren's representative to the UN, reported to the Mission and Ministry Board on the issue of civil rights and blocks to citizenship for people of Haitian descent living in or born in the DR.

Her report followed on that of DR mission co-coordinators Irvin and Nancy Heishman, who reported that Iglesia de los Hermanos (the Dominican Church of the Brethren) has begun a process of advocacy with the DR government on behalf of Haitian members and others in the Haitian community in the country.

The board of the church in the DR has decided to send an attorney to a government hearing on proposed changes to the laws of the country, to encourage changes and improvements in how Haitians are treated. About half of the Brethren in the Dominican church are of Haitian descent, and will potentially be affected, Irvin Heishman reported.

Abdullah reported on findings from a UN special rapporteur and other experts, which set the situation in the context of UN statements against racism and prejudice based on ethnicity. The situation of Haitians in the DR, which Abdullah likened to modern-day slavery, guarantees cheap labor to the country she said. Many people of Haitian descent in the DR live in very dire conditions. They are denied citizenship and civil rights, may be subject to deportation or other mistreatment, and many lack access to education and other services that are enjoyed by Dominicans.

Hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian descent--many of whom are children who were born in the DR, and may be second or third generation descendants of their families' original immigrant into the country--live in shanty towns originally built for sugar cane cutters, and work in "shocking" conditions, Abdullah said. Some 250,000 of these "stateless people" are children, and have limited access to schools or education, according to the UN study of the issue.

The United Nations has sent a document giving 25 recommendations to the DR government concerning those of Haitian descent living in the country, including recommendations on migration laws, treatment of children, concern for birth certificates for those born in the DR, access to education, and other concerns, Abdullah reported.

"What is our (the church's) role in combating racism in the DR?" she asked. Quoting from Isaiah 43:18, "Watch for the new thing I am going to do," she encouraged the church to pray for those who are carrying out the injustice, as well as for those who are mistreated.

Nancy Heishman also asked for prayer for the Dominican Church of the Brethren, which she said had sent the Heishmans to the United States with an assurance of their prayer and support for the US church.

In other notes from the Heishmans' report, the church in the DR currently has approximately 40 students in a theological education program, more than half of whom are of Haitian descent. The program has sponsored the translation into the Spanish and Haitian Creole languages of a text by Galen Hackman first written for EYN in Nigeria, "Introduction to the Church of the Brethren." Theological students in the DR have the assignment to teach from the book in their congregations this summer, she reported. The Heishmans report that the book is available to Spanish and Creole speaking Brethren in Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the United States as well.

Source: 7/1/2009 Newsline

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