Curaçao still violates the rights of refugees from Venezuela, states Amnesty International in a new report (.pdf). According to the human rights organisation, the Netherlands is looking away. It is Amnesty‘s second report on the human rights situation in Curacao, one of the four countries in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Amnesty recorded a large number of stories from Venezuelans and human rights organizations about the abuses in detention on the island. Among them, eight stories of underage children who were imprisoned, sometimes placed in adults. They would also have been evicted separately from their parents, without their consent and unaccompanied.
Yusmary is from Venezuela. She has been staying illegally in Curaçao for four years when she receives a call and learns that two of her children were picked up by the Curacao Coast Guard that night. They’re fifteen and sixteen. Yusmary didn‘t know they were coming. When the children came ashore, they were immediately enthralled and taken into custody.
After a short stop at the police station, the two were transferred to the Foreign Barracks in the infamous SDKK prison in Coral Woodpecker. Yusmary didn’t get to see her minor children. Not even when the children were taken to a closed youth institution. “They said I shouldn‘t talk to them anymore because they would be evicted.”
No legal asylum procedure
According to Amnesty, Yusmari’s story is not in its own right. “We believe that even more children are being imprisoned and expelled in violation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in this way,” says Yara Boff Tonella. She was six months before Amnesty in Curacao to investigate the human rights situation.
“Three years after our first report, not much has changed. Venezuelans are still locked automatically, without having a chance to go through any procedure. Their eviction is in Dutch and there is tremendous pressure to sign it. They don‘t have access to a lawyer unless they are lucky that Curaçao human rights organizations get wind of their detention and visit the barracks before they are evicted,” says Boff Tonela.
A few are aware of the possibility to apply for a kind of asylum. Curaçao has no legal procedure, but must comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. After the first Amnesty Report, the Netherlands has explicitly demanded that from Curaçao.
But the practice is unruly, knows solicitor Seyed Navid Zahedi of Human Rights Defense Curaçao. “Anyone who invokes that treaty is at the mercy of a Justice Minister. There is no court test. So far, no one has ever gone through that procedure successfully. Stronger: Venezuelans know that you can be stuck for years when you ask for protection and therefore refrain from calling on the European Convention of Human Rights.”
According to Zahedi, the Coral Woodpecker detention centre is also tortured. “At one of the barracks uprisings, the Venezuelans who had participated were queued up afterwards and one by one – out of the sight of the cameras – into a bathroom and thrashed.”
“Institutional violence,” says the lawyer, “because there was a coordinator who monitored whether there were no overly large injuries. He said, that’s enough, and then the next one was called. Incidentally, prison custodian violence is not exclusively directed against Venezuelans.”
‘Dutch soldiers helped eviction’
New in Amnesty‘s report is the conclusion that the Netherlands is actively contributing to the system of human rights violations. Boff Tonela: “In recent years, the Netherlands has supported the Coast Guard, the Detention Centre and the Foreign Police Department. The Netherlands has not done its best to see what happens to that support.”
“The Netherlands has not looked away alone,” she continues. “But at Curaçao’s request, Dutch soldiers also helped with what we see as a collective expulsion of 95 Venezuelans.”
According to the missionary Secretary of State Knops of Kingdom Relations, the treatment of migrants in Curaçao is a matter of the country itself. He sees no reason to take action in the report.
Curacao Prime Minister Gilmar Pisas, who is also Acting Minister for Justice, does not want to respond to the Amnesty report.