Washington, D.C., October 15, 2018
Kajsa Ollongren, Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relation
Raymond Knops, State Secretary Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations
Stef Blok, Minister of Foreign Affairs of The Kingdom of the Netherlands
Quincy Girigorie, Minister of Justice of Curaçao
I am writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch to share with you the findings of our most recent report on Venezuelan emigration to the Americas and the Caribbean – including to the Dutch constituent countries of Aruba and Curaçao, which form part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands – and to respectfully urge you to immediately adopt measures to ensure the protection of fundamental rights of Venezuelans in the Kingdom. Curaçao is one of the places where we have documented the worst abuses suffered by Venezuelans fleeing the devastating human rights and humanitarian crisis in their country.
The Venezuelan Exodus
Our report, “The Venezuelan Exodus: The Need for a Regional Response to an Unprecedented Migration Crisis” documents that more than 2.3 million Venezuelans have left their country since 2014, according to the United Nations. Many others have left whose cases have not been registered by authorities.
Venezuelans are fleeing their country for multiple reasons. Severe shortages of medicine, medical supplies, and food make it extremely difficult for many families to have access to the most basic health care and to feed their children. A ruthless government crackdown has led to thousands of arbitrary arrests, hundreds of prosecutions of civilians by military courts, and torture and other abuses against detainees. Arbitrary arrests and other abuses by security forces, including by intelligence services, continue. As a result, a significant number of Venezuelans fleeing the country likely qualify for protection from forced return under a variety of international standards, including in some cases under article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Extremely high rates of violent crime and hyperinflation are also key factors in many people’s decision to leave the country.
Some South American governments, despite daunting challenges, have made considerable efforts to welcome Venezuelans, including adopting special rules to provide them legal permits to stay, in addition to the possibility of seeking asylum. These permits have provided legal status to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, helping them establish themselves abroad, work, and gain access to basic services. Yet sometimes Venezuelans have reported difficulties in getting these permits, because of prohibitive costs or requirements to present documents that they could not bring from Venezuela and are unable to obtain from abroad.
In the Caribbean, where several governments have close ties to, and are economically dependent on, the Venezuelan government, no country has officially adopted a special permit for Venezuelans to legally stay and most of the countries do not have laws to regulate the asylum-seeking process. Venezuelan immigration has had a particularly strong impact on the southern Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba, and Curaçao, given their geographic proximity to Venezuela, their smaller size, and limited capacity to absorb immigrants.
Venezuelan Emigration to Curaçao
In July 2017, the government of Curaçao stated publicly that it had taken over responsibility from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for registering asylum seekers and issuing asylum-seeker certificates. To the best of our knowledge, however, the Curaçao government has not issued a single asylum-seeker certificate since then, even though hundreds of Venezuelans have requested an interview to seek asylum in Curaçao.
Human Rights Watch has received credible reports from several sources who requested anonymity that government authorities in Curaçao are actively conducting immigration raids that have swept up Venezuelan asylum seekers, verbally and physically harassing Venezuelans, and detaining Venezuelans for indefinite periods in inhumane conditions and without access to legal counsel. They also report that authorities have deported some Venezuelans who attempt to seek asylum, including those whose claims may qualify for protection under Article 3 of the ECHR, and have pressured detained parents to inform the authorities of the whereabouts of their children so they can be deported together. These sources also said Venezuelan children are legally allowed to go to school in Curaçao, but they face practical barriers for enrollment and some fear going to school given that authorities have conducted raids to take children away from schools.
For example, one of the cases documented for our report is that of 19-year-old Santiago Hernández (pseudonym), who deserted from the Venezuelan Army after witnessing abuses by army personnel. On August 17, 2018, he left Venezuela by a boat, heading to Curaçao, fearing reprisals for deserting and having witnessed abuses. That night, Curaçaoan authorities arrested him in territorial waters, apparently for illegal entry. Hernández told authorities that he wanted to apply for asylum, but said that they refused to listen and detained him. In immigration detention, he said he tried to request asylum again, but that guards told him to call the Venezuelan consulate instead. He surreptitiously managed to get his hands on a cellphone and called a lawyer, who filed an asylum application on his behalf on August 21, according to documentation reviewed by Human Rights Watch. His lawyer told Human Rights Watch that Hernández was questioned for two days, and on August 27 immigration authorities asked him to sign documents in Dutch, which he did not understand. Hernández remained in immigration detention in Curaçao as of October.
Response by authorities
Instead of addressing the fundamental abuses documented by our report, Curaçaoan authorities have responded by questioning our methodology and denying our findings.
On September 5, the Minister of Justice of Curaçao, Quincy Girigorie, the principal authority responsible for immigration issues, told the media that our report was “tendentious” and based on “incomplete research,” and that we had interviewed “so-called victims” instead of speaking to authorities. He claimed undocumented people put on trial in Curaçao had access to a lawyer, although the government does not provide one, accused detainees of saying they did not have travel documents to delay their deportation, and that immigration checks are carried out on all immigrants, but there are more Venezuelans in Curaçao at the moment.
As explained in the report, our findings are based on field research missions to the Colombian-Venezuelan and Brazilian-Venezuelan borders, where we interviewed government and United Nations officials and dozens of Venezuelans who had crossed the border. The report is also based on additional interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch via telephone, email, Skype, and text messaging services with Venezuelans who have recently fled their country, as well as lawyers, experts, and activists who monitor the situation of Venezuelan immigration in South American countries and the Caribbean, including Curaçao. Moreover, for the report, we conducted a thorough review of official information published by government authorities and UNHCR.
The justice minister’s statements fail to address the key findings in our report—i.e., that Curaçaoan authorities have failed to ensure that Venezuelan asylum-seekers can request asylum, that they are not arbitrarily detained and deported, and that authorities do not carry out raids in which Venezuelans are verbally and physically harassed. On September 9, Amnesty International published a report documenting rights abuses suffered by Venezuelans in Curaçao, with conclusions similar to ours.
On September 12, the Deputy Minister of Justice and Security of The Netherlands stated emphatically that Curaçao is responsible for asylum and migration issues and that the Dutch government would not take over that responsibility. The media also reported that the Dutch government stated that Curaçao does follow international laws and treaties and that it “laments the perception that human rights are violated on Curaçao.”
This reaction by authorities runs counter to our findings, as well as those of Amnesty International, about the reality on the island. Although Curaçao is not bound by the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, as a constituent country of The Netherlands, Curaçao is bound by the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). Article 3 of the ECHR prevents refoulement in cases of torture or inhumane treatment, including some cases of lack of access to life-saving medical care. Curaçao is part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, and therefore it is represented on the international stage by the Kingdom of The Netherlands. The Kingdom is thus responsible for violations of the ECHR that occur in Curaçao. That includes any deportations that violate the ECHR.
To address abuses suffered by Venezuelans in Curaçao, it is critical for Curaçaoan and Dutch authorities – who are collectively responsible for compliance with the ECHR in Curaçao – to ensure access to asylum for Venezuelans (through registration and documentation of asylum-seekers) and refer asylum-seekers to UNHCR; prevent arbitrary or prolonged detention of asylum-seekers in cases where detention is utilized (which should only be a measure of last resort); promote alternatives to detention for asylum-seekers; and allow international organizations and nongovernmental groups access to immigration detention centers to monitor detention conditions and ensure access to protection.
In addition, given the scale and complexity of Venezuelan migration within the region, the authorities in Curaçao and elsewhere in the Dutch Caribbean – together with authorities of the Kingdom of The Netherlands – should support a collective and concerted response by governments in the region to this situation. In particular, governments in the Americas and the Caribbean should consider adopting:
- A region-wide temporary protection regime that would grant all Venezuelans legal status for a fixed period of time, at least pending adjudication of their individual claims for protection; and
- A regional mechanism to distribute both financial costs, and the actual hosting of Venezuelans fleeing their country, on an equitable basis.
The Kingdom of The Netherlands should ensure that treatment of Venezuelans in Curaçao, as well as the other constituent countries and municipalities of The Netherlands in the Caribbean, complies with its international obligations, including the non-refoulement provision in the ECHR. It should urgently provide Curaçao with the assistance required to meet such obligations. Solely providing financial assistance from The Kingdom provided for detention in Curaçao, including to improve detention conditions, will not address human rights concerns regarding the legality of detention or lack of access to asylum procedures and illegal deportations of asylum-seekers and refugees. Any failure to do so can result in The Netherlands being held responsible for violating the ECHR.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need additional information on this matter or would be interested in discussing our findings in person.
José Miguel Vivanco
 Human Rights Watch, “The Venezuelan Exodus: The Need for a Regional Response to an Unprecedented Migration Crisis,” September 3, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/09/03/venezuelan-exodus/need-regional-response-unprecedented-migration-crisis.
 UNHCR, Guidance Note on the Outflow of Venezuelans, March 2018, http://www.refworld.org/docid/5a9ff3cc4.html (accessed October 4, 2018).
 Amigoe, “HRW-report: ‘Curaçaoan authorities intimidate Venezuelans’” (“HRW-rapport: ‘Curaçaose autoriteiten intimideren Venezolanen’”), September 5, 2018.
 “Detained and Deported: Venezuelans denied protection in Curaçao,” September 9, 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur35/8937/2018/en/ (accessed October 11, 2018).
 Deputy justice and security minister M.G.J Harbers in general discussion on alien and refugee policy (algemeen overleg vreemdelingen- en asielbeleid), September 12, 2018, https://www.tweedekamer.nl/debat_en_vergadering/commissievergaderingen/details?id=2017A04498 (accessed October 11, 2018).
 RTL Nieuws, “Chamber shocked by critical Amnesty report about reception refugees Curaçao” (“Kamer schrikt van kritisch Amnesty-rapport over opvang vluchtelingen Curaçao”), September 10, 2018,https://www.rtlnieuws.nl/nieuws/politiek/artikel/4411831/kamer-schrikt-van-kritisch-rapport-amnesty-over-curacao (accessed October 11, 2018).
 The non-refoulement provisions are part of customary international law and are also included in other treaties, such as the Convention Against Torture, which are applicable to Curaçao.
 See, e.g., ECHR, Murray v. The Netherlands, April 26, 2016, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-162614 (finding The Netherlands legally responsible for a violation of Article 3 of the ECHR in Curaçao).