photo: Tim van Dijk

PHILIPSBURG – Because of the coronavirus there’s a notable decrease in the number of foreign interns on Sint Maarten. A lot them have decided to stop their internships on the island, because of the threat posed by the coronavirus, and head back home.

Before hurricane Irma ravaged the island in 2017, the only internship bureau on the island received about 120 internship requests per year. That amount went down after the hurricane destroyed the island and is decreasing again due to the coronavirus.

By Tim van Dijk [English subtitles]

It is extremely quiet at the airport of Sint Maarten on the afternoon of Tuesday March 23rd. An empty KLM airplane from Amsterdam arrived to pick up travelers. Due to the coronavirus, airlift has been severely restricted.
A lot Dutch, but also a few French and Germans, are waiting to check in. A group of Dutch interns and students are also leaving, a lot earlier than planned.

School advised me to return
Gosse Hollema is a college student studying mechanical engineering at the Hanze Hogeschool. He had already been on Sint Maarten for six months and was scheduled to leave on the 3rd of May. “The school advised him to return, so he didn’t have a choice. They understood this at his work.”

Once he gets back, he’ll have to stay with his parents for a bit, after that he’s not sure. “We’ll have to wait and see. But at least I’ll be close to family. And the intensive care on the island has a very limited capacity.”

Daily farewells
Wietseke Brands from Amsterdam had been on Sint Maarten for three weeks and was scheduled to leave on the 19th of April. She was conducting interviews for her thesis. “That’s changed now. I wanted to stay but the Vrije Universiteit felt differently.”

During the last couple of days she saw almost all of the 18 students from the complex where she lived leave. “That made the atmosphere weird, we had to bid people farewell on a daily basis.” The interns didn’t get their deposits back or their pre-paid rent.

Emotional choice for some
A group of students takes a group picture – all of them standing 1,5 meters apart from each other. An older couple who have been living on Sint Maarten for a longer period of time and who are now returning to the Netherlands are too emotional to give us a reaction. Other travelers also just want to check-in and ensure that they have a seat on the plane.

Twenty travelers are eagerly waiting to find out whether or not they can get a seat on the flight to Amsterdam. They’re hoping to continue on to Israel from there. “We were supposed to travel via Canada, but that’s no longer possible.” For now this is the last flight that’s heading to Europe; KLM has not announced when the next flight will take place.

‘Rather be in quarantine on a tropical island’
There are also people who are choosing to stay. Nienke Matse is a junior brand manager at Divico. She’s been on Sint Maarten for four months and will be staying indefinitely. She’s at the airport to say farewell to some friends.

“I’ve been to the airport a couple of times during the last few days to say goodbye to friends, and I doubt myself every time. But I’m just going to stay here. I know what the situation is like in the Netherlands and if I have to go into quarantine somewhere, I’d rather it be on a tropical island.”