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The Dutch Caribbean: the protection of asylum migrants and policies discouraging settlement

In our series on non-sovereign territories in the Caribbean we discussed the institutional position of the Dutch possessions in the region. We saw that since 10 October 2010 Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten have been autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while Bonaire, Sint Eustasius and Saba became “special municipalities” of the Netherlands as of that date. These possessions are geographically divided between Sint Maarten, Sint Eustasius and Saba, forming the Windward islands in the north, and Curaçao, Bonaire and Aruba, forming the Leeward islands in the south. The islands were collectively referred to as the Dutch Antilles until 10 October 2010.

The leeward islands are located off the coast of Venezuela and are as such affected by the Venezuelan turmoil in the form of small numbers of asylum seekers. Foreign Policy reported in January of this year that around 15,000 Venezuelans had fled to Curaçao (40 miles off the Venezuelan coast) to escape the political and economic crisis. This means that about 10 percent of the island’s population now consists of Venezuelan asylum seekers. To put these numbers in perspective, the crisis had led to 3 million cross-border refugees, with one third having been absorbed by neighbouring Colombia.

As a response to criticism of the Dutch treatment of Venezuelan migrants the Advisory Committee on Migration Affairs in the Netherlands, an independent body that advises Government and Parliament on migration law and policy, has issued a report responding to the following questions:

· How are the responsibilities for international protection and migration allocated within the Kingdom?

· To what extent can countries in the Kingdom work together in this area?

The report concludes that in regard to the migration policy, the Kingdom is responsible, among other things, for “establishing general conditions for the admission and deportation of foreign nationals”. It also notes that “international treaties that are relevant to migration policy apply to all countries in the Kingdom, with the exception of the [1951] Refugee Treaty, which does not apply to Curaçao and Sint Maarten”.

Strikingly, the report continues that, in principle, “the countries in the Kingdom have a large degree of autonomy in implementing their own migration policy and are therefore primarily responsible for this themselves”. The Committee finds that in practice there is limited cooperation with regard to the protection and reception of Venezuelan migrants. Based on a fact-finding mission in February Refugees International even concludes that “the fate of Venezuelans seeking refuge on … Curaçao … could very well be the worst in the Americas”.

While the Dutch Antilles are struggling with Venezuelan asylum seekers, the relation between the Netherlands proper and the Dutch Antilles presents its own difficulties. The city of Leeuwarden, European capital of culture in 2018, wants to make it more difficult for a group of people from the Antilles who are allegedly disproportionately involved in domestic violence, drug trafficking and shooting incidents to settle in Leeuwarden. Lawyers specialised in human rights issues question the legality of the proposal. Referring to the 2008 Feryn case by the CJEU in which the Court found “direct discrimination” in case where a Belgian employer had suggested in the press that he would not hire employees of Moroccan descent, the lawyers conclude that the proposal is in a grey zone because preventing people to settle in a particular region based only on their recognisable ethnic descent could potentially violate EU law.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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