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The genealogy of a stateless family – and the need to become a citizen

Andre Jean explains the plight of those who need to become a citizen – a need that 12 million stateless people have around the globe.

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The story of the Jean family shows the genealogy of statelessness on the Caribbean island, Hispanola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It's repeated tens of thousands of times, in different variations. And it is causing increasing tension in the bateyes, or old Dominican sugar cane plantations, where many Haitian descendents still live.

Andre Jean, now 73, came in 1956 across this Michigan-size island of Hispaniola to the Dominican Republic from his home country, Haiti, to cut cane – part of a wave of Haitian sugar cane workers invited by the government of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. Sugar was the country's big business back then, and it needed labor. Haiti, led by its own dictator, was happy to oblige.

"Trujillo sent the trucks to pick us up," says Mr. Jean, who ended up at this sugar plantation, 27 miles outside the capital, Santo Domingo. He cut cane for decades, a brutally hot and physically demanding job. And he has never left.The sugar industry has declined dramatically – but every day Jean still walks to the fields with his machete, to earn some change cutting weeds.

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