PHILIPSBURG, WILLEMSTAD – While Venezuela’s direct neighbours Aruba and Curaçao are still sending back migrants fleeing the crisis-hit South American nation in turmoil, St. Martin is offering them the opportunity to ask for asylum.
As a result, the number of Venezuelans doing so has increased from between 30 and 40 to more than 400 per year since 2015.
The asylum seekers are reportedly allowed to stay five months during which their request is handled. If denied these people must return to their home country, but the process at least gives them a bit of reprieve.
They also receive some basic aid to be able to survive, but must officially remain North of the open border. While nobody really checks the latter, this changes if a person involved works on the Dutch side without an employment permit.
Venezuelans don’t need a visa to visit St. Maarten, but only as tourists during the usual time period for such. Other than that, the regular admittance and residency regulations for foreigners apply.
It’s interesting that the Republic of France seems to recognise Venezuelans as legitimate refugees, while the Kingdom of the Netherlands apparently doesn’t. After all, both states are European Union (EU) members.
This discrepancy could have to do with the fact that St. Martin is an integral part of France, while St. Maarten, Aruba and Curaçao are autonomous countries within the kingdom. Be that as it may, perhaps it’s time The Hague and the Dutch Caribbean come up with a kinder approach to these victims of what is quickly turning into a major humanitarian tragedy within the region.