About 15,000 Venezuelans have fled their country to seek refuge in Curaçao. But, instead of finding refuge in the small island, they have found themselves in jail or in hiding. Harassment, illegal deportations, and immigration raids by police have attributed to this reality for Venezuelans, aid groups have reported, according to Foreign Policy. And the Netherlands shares some of the responsibility. “Curaçao was awful,” Tamara Taraciuk, a researcher working for Human Rights Watch, said to Foreign Policy. “The overall response of surrounding countries has been pretty good, but Curaçao really is on the opposite side of the trend.”
The Netherlands and Curaçao have never fully severed colonial ties. For instance, the island opted in 2010 to join the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which means the kingdom is required to manage Curaçao’s foreign policy. But, in October 2018, when Curaçao’s prime minister reached out to the Netherlands for help with the the influx of Venezuelan immigrants, the Dutch government said the island should take responsibility for its migration policies.
While the number of Venezuelans who have fled to Curaçao does not reach any near the amount of refugees in Europe, the approximately 15,000 Venezuelans now account for about 10 percent of Curaçao’s population. The island must deal with this huge transformation of its country, while balancing its youth unemployment, which has risen to more than 30 percent. Human Rights Watch has reported on the massive effect of the Venezuelan exodus on Curaçao, given the island’s small size and its lack of capability to manage the asylum-seekers. Other Caribbean nations such as Trinidad and Aruba have also experienced a large influx of Venezuelan asylum-seekers, but Curaçao has violated the most human rights.
Curaçao has refused to issue asylum certificates since July 2017. Instead of formulating an asylum policy, the island has engaged in a removal strategy. This strategy has manifested in the deportation and jailing of Venezuelans, according to Amnesty International. In fact, the country sent about 1,200 Venezuelans back to Venezuela in 2017, according to Foreign Policy. Additionally, the U.N. Committee Against Torture called out the kingdom last month for the living conditions of Venezuelans in Curaçao: the Curaçaoan barracks where Venezuelans live are overcrowded, bad hygiene pervades the spaces, and sexual assaults by officials are rampant.
However, the Dutch government has largely ignored pleas of help from Curaçao, saying the island has the autonomy to deal with the problem itself. But law professor Arjen van Rijn, who works with the kingdom’s constitutional law, disagrees. “I’d say that’s a denial of reality,” van Rijn said to Foreign Policy. “Supervision over the respect for human rights is a kingdom affair.”
The Dutch government recently interrupted its mostly hands-off policy last week. The Netherlands wrote to Human Rights Watch that it will assist Curaçao with its asylum system and may provide financial assistance. But meanwhile, the Venezuelans in Curaçao must hope for survival in the underground world of Curaçao, at least until the Dutch government steps up.