Minister of Justice: “Curaçao does not violate human rights”
WILLEMSTAD - Curaçao has since 2012 sheltered almost 8000 Venezuelans who have been eligible for a residence permit. That is 5% of the total population of the island. In addition, it appears (in anticipation of the results of an ongoing investigation) that more than 6,000 undocumented Venezuelans are currently living in Curaçao. That is 3.75% of the total population. In total, more than 9% of the population is now the direct result of the flow from Venezuela. For example, the Netherlands currently accommodates 250,000 refugees, representing 1.45% of the population. The Netherlands should accept 1,500,000 refugees to reach a comparable situation as Curaçao.
The societal consequences of this situation are considerable. In terms of safety, the smuggling of drugs and illegal weapons from Venezuela has increased enormously in the last three years. On the boats used to smuggle undocumented people into the country, dozens of weapons also enter. Trafficking and smuggling of human beings have also increased enormously. The phenomenon "Trago Girls" (drinking ladies) has made its entrance. An NGO recently indicated that there are around 2,000 illegal prostitutes in Curaçao, almost all of whom originate from Venezuela. For a country with a fragile labor market (18% unemployment rate, 10,000 unemployed), the unequal competition of 5,000 undocumented cheap forces is unacceptable. That is 50% of the local unemployed population. It is therefore not surprising that Curaçao, like all other surrounding countries, fights with all kinds of manners to absorb the consequences of this situation.
In relative terms (as a percentage of the number of inhabitants), Curaçao with a population of only 160,000 is much more heavily taxed than the big neighboring countries of Venezuela, although there is no accumulation at the border, but an absorption in the community.
To this local and regional reality and context, the recently published report of the Amnesty International, 'Detained and deported: Venezuelans receive no protection in Curaçao', has given almost no attention. The Curaçao government has taken note of this report from Amnesty International in which the international organization states that the government of Curaçao denied Venezuelans the international right to protection. The government cannot agree with the conclusions of the Amnesty report. The government regrets the perception that human rights are being violated on Curaçao in connection with the migration crisis of Venezuela and does not recognize itself here. The government agrees that there is room for improvement on aspects such as detention facilities and communication about the protection procedures. The government has already taken concrete actions here.
The Curaçao government underlines that - despite the fact that the impact of the influx of Venezuelans (particularly undocumented migrants) on Curaçao is enormous - it does indeed comply with international laws and agreements as laid down in the treaties to which Curaçao is affiliated. Curaçao is not affiliated with the International Convention on the Status of Refugees and has not formulated any laws relating to this theme. This means, among other things, that Curaçao does not grant asylum to political refugees. As a member of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Curaçao adheres to the principle of 'non-refoulement'. This means that the government will not send a person back to his / her country of origin if the person concerned is at risk of being tortured, abused or punished in an inhuman or degrading manner by the authorities in that country. In such a case, protection is offered to that person by not returning him or her. For this reason, the government has in July 2017 established a procedure for the treatment of foreign nationals who enter Curaçao and apply for protection because their lives are at risk in their country of origin or they will be mistreated or tortured there. Foreign nationals traveling to Curaçao who wish to submit a request for protection must go through this procedure in order to qualify for protection under Article 3 ECHR.
On the basis of Amnesty International's recommendations, the Curaçao government recognizes a number of points for attention in which the migration situation must be addressed in a targeted and decisive manner. This concerns the detention facilities and the communication about the protection procedures.
The immigration detention is currently a concern. Curaçao observes the rights of undocumented migrants staying in detention. Undocumented detainees are treated differently from those who are detained on the basis of criminal law. Nevertheless, there is certainly room for improvement of the facilities in which the foreigners are being detained to date, especially now that the flow of undocumented migrants has doubled every year since 2015, a development that cannot be absorbed by the local facilities. As a result, the Curaçao government is already using various routes to improve this. Continuous actions are being taken to improve the quality of police cells and the SDKK (including the barracks of foreigners in detention). The SDKK prison is regularly visited by local and international organizations that advise the Ministry of Justice on how the operations can be improved. The government tries to implement the recommendations issued, taking into account the financial constraints. In this context, it has recently been agreed with the Netherlands that Curaçao will receive financial assistance for the improvement and/or expansion of the detention facilities for undocumented migrants. The intention is that a center will soon be built/renovated to offer more comfort to the undocumented who are there awaiting their deportation. This center would then even offer the possibility to stay together with other family members. All this needs to be formalized. The Minister of Justice instructed the Police Agency Curaçao to permanently decommission the police cells in Rio Canario.
Furthermore, the government has already indicated why it is necessary to detain undocumented persons and to eventually expel them. All this with due regard for international human rights. Adherence to human rights includes, among other things, ensuring that the undocumented person is not held in detention for an indefinite period of time. In the year 2017 female undocumented migrants stayed in detention for a maximum of 3 days before expulsion. For men, there was a maximum of 7 days. According to jurisprudence, an undocumented person cannot stay in detention for more than 70 days. Curaçao has not exceeded this period. In January to May 2018, the situation arose that the borders with Venezuela were unilaterally closed. As a result, it was considerably more difficult to take undocumented Venezuelans back to their countries of origin. As a result, the residence time of undocumented Venezuelans increased to about 30 days per person. Meanwhile, this situation has returned to normal and undocumented people are repatriated in 3-7 days.
In the area of communication on this subject, there is room for improvement both according to the government and according to the Amnesty International report. Employees of the organizations in the judicial chain and other government organizations involved in the ECHR 3 procedure are not sufficiently informed about, among other things, the differences between asylum and protection on the basis of ECHR 3. As a result, various processes and training have now been started for internal communication which enables the judicial staff to deal with this better.
With regard to communication to Venezuelans who are considering making a request for protection, communication processes have also been started. At the moment, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of General Affairs are conducting different sessions to communicate about the process which a person must go through to register for protection. The person who wishes to register for protection can obtain information about the complete procedure via the government website. The government organized a public meeting in June 2018 to inform the public about this subject. The government is also starting other communication processes so that all persons in the judicial chain and those who wish to register for protection are adequately informed.
The government regrets the perception that human rights are being violated in Curaçao. Curaçao is in solidarity with the citizens of Venezuela and tries to respect their rights as far as possible within the legal and financial frameworks. However, the social consequences of the influx of undocumented migrants from the neighboring country, particularly in the areas of safety, labor, health care and education, are enormous due to the small scale of the island and the socio-economic reality. Curaçao tries with all its power to deal with this in a proper way, taking into account the rights of those involved and the local and international laws and regulations that bind the country. But despite all the efforts of Curaçao, a more sustainable and realistic solution for migration of the international world is needed. The government of Curaçao therefore remains open to cooperation with international organizations that really want to contribute to the solutions for this situation.