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SMDF & Dutch Humanitarian Aid Agency Cordaid Partner for Communities

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Expanding its efforts to directly support local communities, St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF) is forging a new partnership with Dutch humanitarian aid agency Cordaid.

The partnership, will see SMDF and Cordaid providing financing for various projects throughout St. Maarten. “SMDF and Cordaid’s relationship began almost immediately after the passing of hurricane Irma and over the past few months we have been working jointly to create contextualized projects that will benefit St. Maarten,” said SMDF Program and Development Manager Makhicia Brooks.

In the days after hurricane Irma, Cordaid provided much needed tarpaulins for residents, using community councils to reach some 200 households. In working with these councils, Cordaid saw the possibilities for community centered disaster preparedness projects.

Like Cordaid, SMDF also sees the intrinsic value of community organizations. “In the aftermath of hurricane Irma, we all saw the importance of these organizations as they became the avenues to get supplies to residents,” said Brooks.

She further explained that while SMDF and Cordaid are both hoping that the island will be spared this hurricane season, both organizations are preparing for a worst-case scenario where community mobilization will be extremely important.

Following Cordaid’s global commitment to implementing via local partnerships, Cordaid is partnering with SMDF as the local implementing agency. The partnership, which was described as a win-win-win, will be carried out over a three-month period.

“Through this project, Cordaid will continue its mission to respond to humanitarian crises as they arise, SMDF will be able to implement community improvement projects and a number of communities will see improvements to their environments,” said Cordaid humanitarian aid Program Manager Dilanga Manuweera.

The projects, all of which were proposed by the community organizations of these areas, will begin this coming week. The projects will include repairs to the Dutch Quarter Community Center, installing of a generator at Belvedere Community Center, placement of Crisis Containers in South Reward and the drilling of a well in Ebenezer.

“Cordaid prioritizes working through local organizations to enable community-driven development and as such, we want to empower these local communities to be vehicles of St. Maarten’s recovery and future resilience,” said Manuweera.

This resiliency will be the focus this coming weekend when Cordaid and SMDF will host disaster preparedness workshops for community-based organizations. The workshops, which will be held at the University of St. Martin (USM), will provide valuable tools for risk assessment, community mobilization and disaster preparedness and response.

“While some question the value of these organizations, SMDF sees their significance and we choose to invest in these institutions to strengthen their capacities,” continued Brooks.

With a packed week ahead, Cordaid and SMDF are forging the path for inclusive, collaborative development on St. Maarten. “Having Dilanga here for the kick-off shows Cordaid’s commitment to these projects and to St. Maarten,” stated Brooks.

Though this is a new partnership, Brooks and Manuweera see it growing in the future as the two organizations are planning to continue programming with Cordaid’s Resilience department to execute larger community driven projects in the near future.

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Dutch doctors offer dna test to rule out serious genetic illnesses in babies

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Six family doctors in Groningen and Friesland provinces are offering patients the chance to find out if their baby risks a serious genetic illness via dna tests, Groningen’s teaching hospital UMCG said on Monday.

The doctors are providing the test for €950, which is not covered by health insurance, and will also offer the option to people who are not signed up to their practice.

Fifteen doctors’ practices have been offering the tests to their own patients for the past two years, under the supervision of the UMCG. Six of these doctors are now going to continue the programme independently, the hospital said.

The test looks for 70 very serious inherited illnesses. ‘The chance of both the man and the woman being a carrier is one in 150,’ the hospital said. ‘If that is the case, the child has a one in 600 chance of actually having the disease.’

Couples who test positive but decide to press on with having a baby anyway, will be offered tests during the pregnancy to find out if their child does have the illness. They can also opt to use sperm or egg donation to remove the risk. (DutchNews)

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Universities and colleges ‘should put limit on English classes’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Universities and colleges have called for the number of courses given in English to be capped in an attempt to contain the growing number of international students.

In a joint paper published on Monday, the Netherlands’ higher education institutions said an upper limit would allow the sector to ensure universities remained accessible to Dutch students.

The institutions also said that matriculation and course fees for students from outside the European Union should be raised. Students from EU countries have the right to pay the equivalent fees to their Dutch counterparts, currently around €2,000.

Universities should also be more selective in deciding whether to give classes in English, improve Dutch and English language courses for students and do more to integrate international students into the system and student life.

In some cases a cap could be introduced on the number of non-EU students applying for popular courses, the institutions said. The sector acknowledges that international students are needed to meet demand for graduate employees as the number of Dutch students declines, but says the numbers need to be manageable.

‘Dutch higher education is extremely attractive internationally, but we need to think about how much growth we can absorb,’ said Pieter Duisenberg, chairman of the universities’ association VSNU.

Currently international students make up 17% of the total population, but VSNU expects this proportion to rise to around 20% in the near future. Around 30% of university staff and 50% of postgraduates are internationals. (DutchNews)

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College goers say they miss out on discounts, should be classed as students

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Youngsters attending mbo colleges in the Netherlands are campaigning to be officially classified as students, saying they miss out on the discounts and other perks available to their university peers.

Youngsters attending mbo colleges (vocational training) have recently been given the right to student loans and discount travel but by law are still classed as ‘participants’.

This means they are not eligible for the cheap internet services or sports club deals which companies use to lure in youngsters and are refused entry to official student bars and cafes.

Health insurance Company Zilveren Kruis, for example, gives university students a 10% discount, but only 7.5% to those at an mbo college, broadcaster NOS reported.

‘When people keeping using the word “participant”, it becomes the norm,’ Roosmarijn Dam, of the mbo student association Job, told broadcaster NOS. ‘The minister calls us school pupils in debates.

That says everything.’ The separation means that mbo students and those at hbo colleges and universities, live in two separate worlds, she says. ‘I completely understand that minors are not allowed into student bars, but to ban one type of student is idiocy,’ she said. ‘What is so different about mbo’ers that you don’t want them in your bar?’

Vocational training

Dutch school pupils are streamed into three main types of education at the age of 12: vmbo (pre mbo college), havo (pre hbo college) and vwo (pre university). Vmbo school pupils usually move on to an mbo college at the age of 16 or 17, where they can take further exams across four different levels.

The longest courses take four years after which high performers can go on to an hbo college. (DutchNews)

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Dutch cancer hospital makes own version of expensive drug after finding new application

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch cancer hospital Antoni van Leeuwenhoek is making its own version of an expensive cancer medicine after finding that the drug helps a new group of patients.

Vorinostat is used to treat a rare form of lymphoma but researchers at the Amsterdam hospital have found it is also effective on patients with melanoma which is resistant to standard treatments.

The drug, which is not available for use in the Netherlands, costs upward of $100 per capsule but can be produced by the hospital pharmacy for €1.50. This is legal as long as the drug is used for clinical trials based on a new application for the drug, the hospital says.

Merck, which makes Vorinostat, has only registered it for the treatment of lymphoma. A spokesman for the drugs company told the Volkskrant that ‘this medicine is still on the market but we no longer promote it or carry out any research using it.’

‘If this treatment works well for patients in our follow-up study, we will be able to treat a lot of people for little money,’ doctor Jan Schellens said on the hospital website. The initial study focused on six patients but this will now be expanded.

Between 200 and 300 people develop resistant melanoma every year in the Netherlands.

Licenced drugs

This is not the first time a Dutch hospital has opted to reproduce a licenced drug. In April, Amsterdam’s AMC teaching hospital said it is to start making its own version of medicine to treat a rare metabolic disorder because the medicine is no longer covered by health insurance after the price shot up.

That drug, chenodeoxycholic acid or CDCA is produced by Italian pharmaceuticals company Leadiant. On April 1, the company ramped up the price by around 500% so it now costs some €200,000 per patient per year. The hospital can produce the drug for €25,000. (DutchNews)

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Troublemakers at refugee centre are moved to new locations

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Most of the 30 or so failed asylum seekers who were causing trouble at a refugee centre in Weert, Limburg, have been moved to other locations, the central refugee agency COA has told local broadcaster 1Limburg.

Some of the men have been placed in the two centres in Amsterdam and Hoogeveen where there is extra supervision, the others were spread across the country, the COA said.

Weert’s mayor had called on the government to take action to deport the group after a string of incidents.

Jos Heijmans told 1Limburg last month that the group is made up of young economic refugees from safe North African countries such as Morocco who are all scheduled to be sent back.

Other refugees in the centre no longer feel safe because of the fighting, drug abuse and theft, Heijmans said. (DutchNews)

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Syrian man held for The Hague stabbings gives statement to police

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Syrian man arrested in The Hague for stabbing three people has given a statement to police, broadcaster NOS reported.

However, the public prosecution department has not released any details about the statement, nor said if it confirms suspicions that the man had a terrorist motive, NOS said.

The 31-year-old man is accused of three cases of attempted murder, and threatening others with a knife. He was shot by police during his arrest and remains in hospital where he is under armed guard.

Police said at the time the man had a previous record of mentally disturbed behaviour and The Telegraaf reported that he had been involved in an incident in February where he threw furniture and possessions out of the window of his flat in the city centre.

The three victims of Saturday’s incident, a 21-year-old man from Zoetermeer and two people from The Hague aged 41 and 35, were seriously injured but their lives were not in danger.

Local residents told broadcaster Omroep West that the man had been involved in other disturbances in the neighbourhood and claimed he shouted ‘Allah akhbar’ in the course of Saturday’s stabbings on Johanna Westerdijkplein. (DutchNews)

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Deportation cancelled, Armenian children in last-ditch attempt to stay

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Two children who went into hiding after facing deportation to Armenia have been given a last minute reprieve and can await the results of a new attempt to win them residency rights in the Netherlands. Howick (12) and Lily (13) should have been deported on Monday but their flight was cancelled following a last-ditch legal appeal.

In April, a court ruled Howick (12) and Lily (13) can be sent back to their mother’s home country, despite never having lived there and not speaking the language. The court upheld former justice minister Klaas Dijkhoff’s decision not to give the children a residency permit on the basis of ‘temporary humanitarian grounds’, clearing the way for them to be deported.

Their mother Armina Hambartsjumian was deported to Armenia in August last year after sending the children to a secret address. They were found a week later and now live with a foster family.

The children were born in Russia and have lived in the Netherlands for over nine years. However, they have not qualified for the government’s amnesty for child refugees. Now their lawyer is attempting to win them refugee rights as independent individuals, rather than as children. That process is expected to take several months. (DutchNews)

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Protesters call for end to Wadden Sea island ritual, involving a live cockerel

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Animal rights campaigners say a spring ritual on the Wadden Sea island of Schiermonnikoog should be halted because of cruelty to animals.

The tradition, part of the island’s annual Kallemooi festival, involves placing a cockerel in a basket and hanging it from an 18 metre pole for three days. Animal rights groups say the practice means the bird is kept in isolation, cannot move around or communicate, and breaks animal protection laws several times over.

In addition, the basket does not offer sufficient protection against the weather, they say. ‘We can no longer abuse animals for a tradition,’ the organisations say. ‘And there are plenty of alternatives to allow the festival to continue without mistreating animals.’ The festival takes place from May 19 to 22, to coincide with Whitsun. (DutchNews)

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Tiel cafe owner bans customers who don’t speak Dutch (update)

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The owner of two cafes in Tiel, a town in Gelderland between Arnhem and Den Bosch, has decided to ban potential customers who do not speak Dutch, local paper the Gelderlander said on Monday.

The paper says the rule applies to all visitors to cafe De Tijd and dance cafe De Kikker, but that the real aim is to keep out Polish nationals. Tiel is the centre of the the Dutch fruit growing industry, where many seasonal workers come to pick apples and pears.

Owner Cristjan Ernste told the paper that cafe customers have to show their ID and say ‘goedenavond’ and that Polish nationals and other foreigners who speak Dutch will be allowed to go in.

‘It is about us all understanding each other,’ he is quoted as saying, adding that he did not consider the house rules to be discriminatory because they applied to everyone.

‘If I tell a customer they have had enough to drink and that they should leave, and they don’t understand me, it immediately gets physical,’ he said.

Exaggerated

Tiel mayor Hans Beenakker told the paper he is aware of more complaints about the behaviour of Polish workers in cafes and bars. However, the police said talk of problems and fights is exaggerated.

Tiel is also one of several towns which is bringing in local laws to restrict the number of Eastern Europeans living in certain residential areas. The town council wants to restrict the number of ‘labour migrants’ living in one house to four and plans to limit the number of ‘Polish houses’ on a street by street basis.

The town estimates around 10% of its population are Polish.

Update Monday afternoon: The cafe owner has told local council officials he will not be pressing ahead with the plan. According to the Gelderlander, it was ‘never his intention to discriminate’ and that the decision was aimed at ensuring the safety of staff and customers who cannot always communicate. (DutchNews)

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