photo: Pixabay

PHILIPSBURG – The sun is barely up when a team of men storm the construction site for Sonesta Maho. Their target: picking up undocumented Venezuelan laborers.

Just like on Curaçao and Aruba, Sint Maarten is struggling with the influx of Venezuelans who left their home country, and are residing on the island illegally. And just like on the other islands, there are worries about their arrival on Sint Maarten. ‘Were the Venezuelan refugees truly in a life-threatening situation, or are they just searching for a better economic outlook?’ That’s the question that the governments and immigration are struggling with.

Situation Venezuela

Nearly 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled their home country since 2014. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) requested members of the international community to provide the Venezuelan refugees with the help they need.

The Curaçaoan government has noted that it can not handle the flow of refugees, and has been asking the Netherlands for help since last year. The Dutch cabinet for its part says that Curaçao is responsible for its own migration policy.

After Amnesty International released a devastating report on Monday about how the Curaçaoan government was violating the human rights of the Venezuelan asylum seekers, reactions from the inhabitants flooded social media:

“But you also have to be honest as a member of the press, and acknowledge that most of the Venezuelans are economic refugees which impedes the asylum procedure.”

“There is NO money to accommodate the Venezuelan refugees, let alone money to spend on them.”

“We need help ourselves. There are plenty of children in Curaçao without food, clothes, or shelter.”

In a reaction to the Amnesty International report, the government of Curaçao acknowledged the comments made by the inhabitants. “For a country with a fragile labor market (eighteen percent unemployment rate, 10,000 unemployed), having five thousand extra, cheap undocumented laborers is unbearable. That’s fifty percent of the local unemployed population.”

Human trafficking
The government on Sint Maarten is also worried about ‘unfair competition due to undocumented Venezuelans on the labor market’. A special police unit called Unit Mensenhandel (Human trafficking) is ‘hunting’ down undocumented Venezuelans as part of a bigger investigation. “Having undocumented workers is illegal on Sint Maarten; not only due to the fact that they diminish the odds of a Sint Maartener finding a job but a lot of times undocumented workers end up being exploited”, emphasizes the Public Prosecutor’s Office on Sint Maarten.

How can the concerns brought up by the human rights organizations be reconciled with the worries brought up by the governments of the islands. And where is the help from the other partners within the Kingdom in all of this?

Dutch parliamentarians were shocked by the report published by Amnesty International about the treatment of Venezuelan refugees by Curaçao but further action out of the Hague doesn’t seem to be on the books.

Country affaire
“The migration policy is a country affaire”, writes the cabinet in a reaction. “This means that Curaçao itself is responsible for the execution of a proper migration policy.”