VENEZUELA: Refugees Fleeing To Dutch Island of Curacao Face ‘Appalling’ Treatment – New Report
Amnesty International UK Press Release
“Some guards treat us like animals” a man held in the Rio Canario police cells
People fleeing to the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao following the spiralling crisis, rising violence, and unrest in Venezuela are facing “appalling” conditions, detention and deportation, a new report from Amnesty International said today (9 September).
The 52-page report - Detained and Deported: Venezuelans denied protection in Curaçao - shows how refugees and asylum-seekers have been unable to apply for international protection in Curaçao since July 2017, and instead have been detained or deported from the island.
Curaçao is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the “active removal strategy”, implemented by the government last year has led to the deportation of over 1,200 Venezuelans in 2017 and almost 400 between January and April this year.
Amnesty found that the authorities are holding those facing deportations in detention centres and police cells – with families being separated and children put in foster care during their parent’s detention.
The report describes inexcusable conditions in detention centres in Curaçao, including overcrowding, a lack of privacy, poor hygiene in shower and bathroom areas, and a lack of suitable bedding. Several people told Amnesty that they had suffered ill-treatment upon arrest or in detention, including women who had only been offered sanitary towels and soap in exchange for sexual favours.
“Some guards treat us like animals”, a man held in the Rio Canario police cells told Amnesty.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International Americas Director, said:
“It’s a disgrace that the Curaçao government has not established an effective procedure for people to seek asylum. Instead of turning their backs on the people fleeing a desperate crisis in Venezuela, the authorities in Curaçao must guarantee the rights of all asylum-seekers and refugees in need of international protection.
“We are appalled by the allegations of ill-treatment, excessive use of force and any other form of abuse during arrests or in detention.
“The Curaçao authorities must put an immediate end to these practices and launch prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigations into any alleged human rights violations.
“The Netherlands must investigate what’s happening in Curaçao and should offer its support and guidance to ensure that new arrivals receive the protection they need. The Netherlands cannot turn a blind eye while people’s human rights are being violated.”
Refusal to provide protection
In March, the UN Refugee Agency said a very significant proportion of Venezuelans who have fled the country need international protection. However, the authorities in Curaçao have offered no protection for Venezuelans seeking refuge on the island, just 40 miles from their homeland. Although the Curaçao government claims there is an asylum procedure in place, people from Venezuela told Amnesty that in practice it is close to impossible to obtain protection.
“I called the police station to ask where I could apply for protection. The police officer laughed and told me that no such procedure existed,” said a Venezuelan member of a humanitarian organisation.
Amnesty calls on the Curaçao authorities to guarantee the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees by setting up a fair and effective asylum procedure. They should only use detention as a last resort, and must conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations upon arrest and in custody.
State of emergency
Venezuela has been in a state of emergency since January 2016, with dissidents subjected to raids, harassment and intimidation. The severe food and health crises continue to worsen, particularly affecting children, pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses. An estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled this unprecedented crisis in their country according to the UN, including up to 15,000 people in Curaçao with irregular immigration status.