Almost 5.7 million Venezuelans have fled the human rights crisis in their country, making it one of the largest forced displacement crises in the world. Curaçao, a nearby Caribbean island that is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is one of the destination countries. It is estimated that 17,000 Venezuelans live with irregular migratory status on the island.
“It’s unacceptable that the Kingdom of the Netherlands has supported the Curaçaoan authorities in rounding up, detaining and deporting people who fled Venezuela in search of safety. Instead of turning a blind eye while people’s human rights are being violated, the Dutch authorities should ensure that they receive the international protection they need,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
Still no protection
Amnesty International has found that the situation of Venezuelans seeking protection in Curaçao has not improved since it published the report Detained and Deported in 2018. Although Curaçao introduced a new international protection procedure, it still does not meet international human rights law and standards. For example, Venezuelans fleeing the crisis are still automatically detained for undefined periods of time, in which they are pressured to sign forms consenting to deportation and have very limited access to legal assistance. The protection assessment interviews are carried out by government officials who are also in charge of arresting foreigners with irregular migratory status. So far, the new procedure has only led to rejection of applications for protected status. The organization is deeply concerned that Curaçao consequently sends people back to Venezuela where they are at great risk of serious human rights violations, in breach of the international principle of non-refoulement.
The conditions in the “Foreigners Barracks”, the detention center in the Sentro di Detenshon i Korekshon Korsou (SDKK) prison, remain inhumane, with detainees subjected to sensory deprivation, overcrowding, being locked up among convicted prisoners, and a lack of privacy. Venezuelans told Amnesty International that prison guards subjected them to degrading and inhuman treatment, such as physical and verbal abuse and being forced to leap like frogs while naked. In 2019, police shot a group of Venezuelans who were in the Foreigners Barracks with rubber bullets. The intentional and disproportionate force the police used against them, and the severity of the injuries, may amount to ill-treatment or torture.
Miguel, who was among those shot with rubber bullets, recalls how the guards punished him and his group for seeking protection: “Then the craziness started: the guards didn’t let us sleep. They made noise at every moment with hammers. I was sleeping on the ground and poorly fed. I lost thirty-five kilos in five months. They damaged us psychologically to make sure we left the island.”
Detention of children and family separation
Curaçao has violated the rights of Venezuelan children by detaining them and separating them from their parent(s) who live on the island. Amnesty International has found eight cases of children who were or had been detained amongst adults in the Foreigners Barracks or in juvenile institutions. They were not reunited with their parent(s), neither were the parent(s) allowed to visit them. Instead, the Curaçaoan authorities deported them or were planning to deport them without their parents’ knowledge or authorization. The intentional and severe mental suffering that government officials have inflicted by deporting children and separating them from their parent(s) may in some cases amount to torture.
In the case of Yusmari, her two sons, aged 15 and 16 at the time, were automatically detained in the Foreigners Barracks after the Coastguard had intercepted them and handed them over to the Curaçaoan immigration police. Yusmari, who already lived with an irregular migratory status on the island, recalls when they were put in the Foreigners Barracks: “Every time we called, we would cry.” Her youngest son, who is now back in Venezuela, told Amnesty International: “I felt bad. I was not used to being locked up.” After two days, Yusmari’s sons were detained in a youth institution where she was not allowed to contact or visit them. When she finally got permission and arrived at the youth institution, she learnt that the Curaçaoan authorities had already deported her children.
The Netherlands’ contribution to human rights violations
Despite various alarming signals about serious refugee and migrant rights violations committed in recent years, the Dutch authorities have intensified their active cooperation and support to Curaçao, principally in the field of detection, detention and deportation of irregular migrants and people seeking protection.
In November 2019 the Dutch military assisted in the guarding of a group of unlawfully detained Venezuelans, who appear to have been collectively deported in breach of international law. The Netherlands has also provided the Dutch Caribbean Coastguard with equipment and personnel to intercept people arriving by boat in an irregular manner, regardless of the high risk they run of being subjected to human rights violations on land.
The Dutch authorities have not created any binding human rights safeguards, independent monitoring mechanisms, or investigated alleged violations while supporting the Curaçaoan authorities. The responsible State Secretary has repeatedly stated that the Dutch authorities have no obligations to do so, because the Dutch government regards migration policy and possible violations as Curaçao’s responsibility.
However, Amnesty International takes the position that international obligations to respect and protect human rights also apply to the Netherlands when it supports the Curaçaoan authorities. The Dutch authorities have obviously failed to do so and have therefore contributed to a system of violations.
Amnesty International calls on the Curaçaoan authorities to guarantee the rights of Venezuelans seeking protection by creating an asylum procedure that meets international standards. They should stop the detention of children, and the separation of families; and only use detention of adults as a last resort. They must conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations committed during arrests or in custody.
The government of the Netherlands should assess human rights risks and create binding human rights safeguards applicable to the support it provides the Curaçaoan authorities. Moreover, the Netherlands should establish an independent inquiry to investigate its responsibilities in the assistance and other forms of cooperation between the Netherlands and Curaçao in the field of migration and international protection, in particular the guarding of Venezuelans in the sports hall in 2019 and the actions of the Coastguard.
Still no safety: Venezuelans denied protection in Curaçao (Research, October 11, 2021)
Detained and deported: Venezuelans denied protection in Curaçao (Research, September 9, 2018)
Contact: Gabby Arias, [email protected]