Published On: Fri, Dec 14th, 2018

The Hague cannot ignore refugees from Venezuela

RefugeesTHE HAGUE, WILLEMSTAD – According to the Members of the First Chamber (Senate) of the Dutch Parliament, Tineke Strik and Frits Lintmeijer, it is time that the Netherlands commits itself to the protection of refugees from Venezuela in Curaçao.

Many of these refugees leave from the coast town Vela de Coro. They set sail to the island in search of a better life. Curaçao is about 70 kilometers north of Venezuela.

Lack of food, healthcare, and prospects have already sent more than three million people out of Venezuela. Colombia generously received one-third of them. A small number of refugees hopes to reach the Curaçao tourist beaches in rickety boats and with a danger to their own lives. Sometimes they reach ashore, sometimes they are intercepted by the coastguard and sometimes little boats capsize with fatal consequences. Those who survive disappear into illegality or end up in overcrowded detention centers and are often sent back without handling their asylum request. In detention, children are separated from their mothers, there is no access to legal assistance and lack of decent basic care. This is the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 2018.

Many Venezuelans do not even get the chance to submit an asylum application in Curaçao.

Curaçao is not a party to the Refugee Convention and has no asylum legislation. Until July 2017, the UN refugee organization UNHCR dealt with asylum applications in the territory, before being able to relocate refugees to other countries. Since then, the Curaçao immigration service first carries out an assessment. In view of the speed with which migrants are returned after arrival (often within 48 hours), there are major doubts about the accuracy of this assessment. But many Venezuelans do not even get the chance to submit an asylum request, for example because they did not ask for it immediately upon arrival. The UNHCR, which urges countries to protect Venezuelans, did not receive any asylum requests from the Immigration Service until this spring.

Who is responsible

The Curaçao practice also raises the question of who is responsible for respecting human rights and offering protection: Curaçao or the Kingdom. And if the latter is responsible, what does that mean for the largest country in the Kingdom, the Netherlands?

First, international law offers a solution. According to customary international law, no country should send refugees back to their country of origin if they have a fear of persecution ('non-refoulement').

Curaçao is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Kingdom has signed.

This treaty prohibits states from sending people back to places where they are at risk of inhumane treatment (Article 3), which compels them to an individual assessment of whether a return is safe. The migrants are entitled to appeal against a negative decision (Article 13). In addition, Article 5 protects them against arbitrary detention and poor detention conditions.

Guarantee function

The Statute of the Kingdom of the Netherlands gives information about the mutual division of responsibilities. If one of the countries demonstrably fails to protect human rights, the Statute has a guarantee function (article 43.2), which can ultimately lead to intervention by the Kingdom Government. And in this, the Netherlands has a dominant voice.

Although the Dutch government insists that it is up to the countries themselves to guarantee the rights, Article 3.g of the Statute stipulates that the Kingdom as a whole is responsible for the general conditions for admission and expulsion of foreign nationals. Hard judgments have been made about this responsibility by, among others, Amnesty International, the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights and the National Ombudsman.

Whether the Netherlands wants it or not, it is already heavily involved in the refugee crisis. Consider the trade relations with Venezuela and the recent deal of Minister Blok this spring to lift the trade and border blockade (after which the number of expulsions to Venezuela suddenly increased drastically), also think of the role of the Netherlands in border surveillance and coastguard in Caribbean Netherlands (Bonaire).

The direct contribution of the Netherlands to the migration policy in Curaçao is limited to a financial commitment for a new detention center. According to Amnesty International, this will further contribute to human rights violations, because detention should be a last resort and not the standard as in Curaçao.

Regional migration crisis

So, all the efforts of the Netherlands to date are aimed at warding off and returning rather than offering protection and strengthening human rights. Nor does the Netherlands contribute to solidarity in this regional migration crisis.

The big question that lies on the table is how long the Netherlands as the largest country in the Kingdom can continue to shift responsibility for human rights. Almost daily Venezuelan refugees come into the Kingdom with danger for their own lives. Subsequently, they are faced with inhumane conditions and other violations of their fundamental rights. Instead of contributing to this, it is about time that the Netherlands is committed to the protection of their rights. The Netherlands cannot continue to run away from this responsibility.

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