SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) – The United Nations' (UN) World Refugee Day is observed on June 20 each year. This event honors the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.
In some countries, it is a day when activists protest against using former prisons to detain migrants and asylum seekers while visiting them in detention to offer moral support.
Some communities dedicate an entire week that includes World Refugee Day to encourage people to think about the lives of refugees and the human right to a secure place that one can see as “home”.
A refugee is a displaced person who has been forced to cross national boundaries and who cannot return home safely. Such a person is seeking a form of protection and may be called an asylum seeker until granted refugee status by the contracting country. Most of the times those people are of special humanitarian concern.
A recurring item on TV news are scenes of refugees fleeing their home countries en route to more secure destination. Some countries slams their doors to refugees, other countries embrace newcomers as assets to their economies and cultural diversity.
The shores of Sint Maarten may not yet have been the target for large groups of refugees, as with, for instance Curaçao and Aruba, where authorities have to deal with an influx of refugees from their neighboring country Venezuela, from which refugees are clandestinely arriving by sea.
The Dutch government has offered technical support to Aruba and Curaçao to help them deal with the flow of migrants from the crisis-hitting Venezuela. The Dutch government has also emphasized that Aruba and Curaçao concern two autonomous countries within the kingdom and that these areas have their own responsibilities to solve the refugees and migration issues.
In Sint Maarten, immigration authorities would deal with refugees, once they reach our country. It is not uncommon that some refugees are opting to stay on illegally, while others choose to cross the border to the northern side, Saint Martin, and apply for asylum.
According to figures released by the sous-prefecture on the French part of Sint Maarten, last April, some 345 asylum requests were received in 2016. This was 300 more than in 2015. Of these more than 78 percent were asylum seekers from Venezuela.
The Second Meeting of the Caribbean Migration Consultations (CMC) - Refugee Protection was hosted by the Government of the Commonwealth in The Bahamas from 4-6 December 2017.
This was done with the logistical and technical support of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The meeting concluded with a 2017 report on Caribbean migration recommending that all member countries pass legislation on refugee protection.
The report was compiled after a meeting on the topic and ideas were presented for study visits, from one country to another, to see how other jurisdictions address the same issues.
From the group chaired by The Bahamas, priorities were given, included the need for local training and sensitization support across governments to process and treat refugees in a humane manner, and for capacity building for officials.
Contingency planning for natural disasters was also discussed. Individual countries identified either developing legislation or acceding to relevant conventions as priorities, including the conventions on statelessness, and looking more closely at potential statelessness within their borders.
National Development Relevance
Movement of people, most often through migration, is a significant part of global integration.
Yet Sint Maarten (Dutch side) is not alone where it concerns reliable statistics on migration, which are difficult to collect and are often incomplete, creating a challenge for exact figures on refugees entering Sint Maarten.
Special attention from countries is needed to ensure that these vulnerable people will not be left behind when the 2030 Agenda is implemented. This entails efforts to ensure the right to health for both, displaced populations and for people who are transgressing national borders in their often dangerous and desperate search for security.
In 2016, 193 countries signed the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which emphasizes education as a critical component of the international response to the global refugee crisis. This is instrumental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 4 for quality education.
Sint Maarten has embraced the 2030 Agenda with its Sustainable Development Goals as part of country’s development agenda. SDGs 8, decent work and Economic Growth and SDG 16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions are dealing with issues related to refugees and migration as a wider perspective thereof.
The government of Sint Maarten advocates working in partnership (MDG 17) with non-governmental institutions, the private sector and stakeholders abroad to contribute to a better world for its citizens and visitors on Sint Maarten.
Interested persons can reach out to The Department of The Interior and Kingdom Relations (BAK), program manager for SDGs Drs. Loekie Morales on 5271223 to know more about how to work together to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on Sint Maarten.