Amnesty International says Curacao is denying protection to Venezuelans fleeing the crisis

File photo of Venezuelan migrants crossing the Simón Bolívar international bridge to Colombia.
File photo of Venezuelan migrants crossing the Simón Bolívar international bridge to Colombia. AP

The undocumented Venezuelan immigrant was 18 weeks pregnant when she was detained in Curaçao and taken to a police station where she said she was screamed at and thrown against a wall.

The woman, identified only as Vanessa, said she was then sent to the “foreigners’ barracks” where she was fed only bread and peanut butter and received no medical attention. She was later deported to Venezuela, where doctors told her the baby had died.

Vanessa’s story is part of an Amnesty International report, Detained and Deported: Venezuelans denied protection in Curaçao, detailing allegations of human rights violations against Venezuelans who seek refuge on the Caribbean island from the economic and political crises lashing their country.

“It’s a disgrace that the Curaçao government has not established an effective procedure for people to seek asylum. Instead of turning their back 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,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Guevara-Rosas added that the Curaçao government instead has designed “an active removal strategy” to deport all those with irregular migration status.

The island, which is part of the Netherlands and sits only about 43 miles off the coast of Venezuela, deported 1,203 Venezuelans in 2017 and 386 others in the first four months of this year, according to Amnesty International.

Dissidents who remain in Venezuela have been subjected to harassment and intimidation. Food and medicine shortages continue to grow worse and especially affect children, pregnant women and people with chronic ailments, the organization wrote in the report.

An estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled this “unprecedented crisis in their country according to the UN, including an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 people presently in Curaçao with irregular immigration status,” the Amnesty International report noted.

The U.N. High Commission for Refugees declared in March that many of the Venezuelans who have fled the country need international protection. But the AI report said Curaçao authorities have offered no protection for asylum seekers.

“Although the Curaçao government claims there is an asylum procedure in place, people from Venezuela told Amnesty International that in practice it is close to impossible to obtain protection,” AI wrote.

Netherlands Foreign Minister Stef Blok announced during a visit to the island in April that the country’s Immigration and Naturalization Service would send staffers to the island to process the Venezuelan refugees, according to the Curaçao Chronicle newspaper.

The agency would separate “the true refugees from economic refugees,” Blok was quoted as saying.

Blok added that Curaçao, Aruba and the Dutch-ruled part of St. Maarten were responsible for processing the Venezuelan migrants but said that most of them are economic refugees.

“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 an unidentified Venezuelan member of a humanitarian organization quoted in the report.

The AI report singled out issues such as detaining immigrants in police lockups and the case of two children placed in a government children’s home while their mother was detained.

The mother, Natalia Saabedra, 31, was detained at the dental clinic where she worked as a cleaning woman after police were told that an undocumented foreigner worked there. Police then picked up her children, 6 and 8 years old, and put them in the home.

The three were deported 75 days later. She was denied access to a lawyer, was never given clean clothes and was threatened four times by island immigration officials, Saabedra told AI.

Amnesty International wrote that it also “observed inexcusable conditions in detention centers, including overcrowding, a lack of privacy, poor hygiene in shower and bathroom areas, and a lack of suitable bedding.” Several people told the organization that they had suffered ill treatment upon arrest or in detention, “including the proposition of sexual favors in exchange for sanitary towels and soap.”

Curaçao authorities must protect people fleeing the crisis in Venezuela and “put an end to the appalling conditions they face upon reaching Curaçao,” AI said.

The organization called on 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, as set out in international human rights law, and must conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations upon arrest and in custody. “

The Netherlands government “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 Kingdom cannot turn a blind eye while people’s human rights are being violated,” said Guevara-Rosas.

Follow Sonia Osorio on Twitter: @soniaosoriog