A United Nations-backed census has been launched in the Dominican Republic to improve to the lives of hundreds of refugees and asylum-seekers.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) the census, which began last week, will provide more accurate data on the number of refugees in the Caribbean nation and will record basic information such as age, gender, nationality, place of current residence, and family details.
This census can be a useful tool for both UNHCR and the Dominican Government, " said Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, who heads the agency`s office in Santo Domingo. By identifying where individuals are today and re-establishing contact with them, this exercise can contribute significantly in our joint efforts to reactivate the asylum system for individuals who have been waiting years for a decision, " he added.
A particular feature of the census is that mobile phones will be used to record information more quickly and will allow census staff, who have been trained by UNHCR, to take pictures and include satellite navigation data as part of the registration process.
UNHCR data states that at the end of last year, there were some 595 refugees and 1,785 asylum-seekers in the country, the majority living in urban areas around the capital, Santo Domingo. While most are Haitian, there are also people from countries such as Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Syria.
The census, which is being carried out in partnership with the organization Pastoral Haitiana, will also provide an overview of the documentation status of this population. Most refugees in the Dominican Republic were recognized as such in the mid 1990s, but were never able to obtain legal residence in the country. In some cases, asylum-seekers have been waiting for more than 10 years for their claims to be decided, holding state-issued certificates which need to be renewed every three months and do not allow them to work.
In a news release issued by the agency, UNHCR noted that the census, which will continue throughout March, was preceded by an information campaign and intensive consultations with community leaders to ensure that refugees and asylum-seekers are aware of the importance of being registered.
In August, the National Commission for Refugees (CONARE) requested UNHCR`s support to locate asylum-seekers in the country and prepare an initial assessment of their claims. The Dominican Government later pledged at a ministerial meeting in Geneva to strengthen CONARE`s work and improve the procedure to deal with pending and future asylum cases.
However, as CONARE has not met since 2005, its reactivation is key in ensuring individuals can exercise their rights and duties under the UN Refugee Convention, UNHCR said.