Outside the United Nations (UN) building in N’Djaména (Chad) where I used to work, they lined up every day early in the morning. Refugees with their hands in the air seeking someone to lift them up. Refugees crying for help, because most of them are innocent people who are tired of war, persecution and other calamities. In my office, a UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) poster showing two messages: “Refugee, go back home” and “He would if he could” (see photo), served as a daily reminder that there is no pleasure in fleeing one’s home.
No one disagrees that the arrival of scores of people fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela to come to Curaçao presents real challenges for our island. But the lack of compassion and humanity shown so far by the Government of Curaçao (GoC) is frankly disconcerting. It’s true that Curaçao is struggling with its own problems, but which country isn’t? It may also be true that we lack a comprehensive asylum policy. But are we therefore absolved from doing our best to accommodate these people and offering them a helping hand?
What’s happening in Venezuela is the largest displacement of people in Latin American history according to the UN. The number of people that need to be attended to is growing exponentially and beyond our capacity to absorb. I’m however not arguing for open-ended commitments to receive people from our southern neighbor. I’m advocating first of all for a humane and compassionate approach by the GoC. It seems that cabinet members are so consumed by legal technical reasons as to why Curaçao is not bound by international conventions to help refugees that they hardly noticed how they’ve failed the humanitarian standards by which they were expected to govern.
I hope the GoC unequivocally states that it’s willing to cooperate and ready to accept international aid to face this crisis. Aid that must come from the Kingdom of The Netherlands and the UN. One of the challenges that the UN must overcome however is that the international donor’s response for monies and other resources for the Venezuelan crisis has been so far been nothing like the resources committed to servicing the refugee crisis in Syria and Myanmar. This has to change.
What also has to change is our misconception about refugees. These are people, not numbers. Refugees are for the most part innocent victims who have experienced many extremely stressful events that cause them to flee. Yet, our (political) discourse about refugees rarely takes into account the trauma that these people are going through and how difficult it must be to leave home.
That the once proud citizens of the richest nation in Latin America, are starving and fleeing Venezuela must teach us that no one is immune from crises. We in Curaçao could also become victims of natural or man-made disasters forcing us to flee. If that were the case, would we want to be left to our own devices?