Artful Legal Maneuvering Keeps Three Illegal Syrian Immigrants In Sint Maarten
PHILLIPSBURG – Three Syrians who traveled from Haiti to St. Maarten on forged Greek passports on November 14 of last year are still on the Dutch-French island, the Virgin Islands Free Press has learned.
On December 16, a Dutch Court sentenced the men to a three-month conditional prison sentence and they were handed over to immigration for deportation to Haiti.
Two days after the court ruling, on December 18, the Syrians – Shanto Bahi, 34, Rasste Issa, 26 and Salaiman Hasan, 22 – received notice that they would be deported the next day.
The same day, attorneys Safira Ibrahim and Hedy Kockx wrote to the director of the immigration department, Udo Aron, and requested an annulment of the deportation.
On December 21, the attorneys informed the court that their clients were at the airport, checked in for a flight to Haiti. They petitioned the court to forbid the deportation.
The court then issued a verbal freeze, and confirmed this in an email to the attorneys and to the attorney for the minister of justice, Amador Muller. The court said it would handle the request the same day, that it would issue a decision as soon as possible thereafter and that in the meantime the deportation had to be put on ice.
Immigration then released the three Syrians, reason for the court to move handling of the request to a later date. It ruled on the case yesterday.
The attorneys for Baho, Issa and Hasan asked the court not only to suspend the deportation decision; they also asked a ban on deporting the men to a country “where their admission is not guaranteed.”
The three men maintain that they are refugees and that they cannot be deported to Syria. “Deportation to Haiti includes the risk of deportation to Syria or an incorrect association with Islamic State,” the attorneys said, adding that deportation to Haiti also violates the ban on refoulement (the principle of international law that forbids the rendering of a victim of persecution to his persecutor).
Admission to Haiti –or to Paraguay (the country from where they traveled via the Dominican Republic to Haiti) is not guaranteed, the attorneys said, because the men do not have any valid travel documents.
The men indicated that they prefer traveling to the Netherlands, to be reunited with family members. If that is not possible, they prefer staying in St. Maarten.
Among the documents the Syrians submitted to the court was a letter from Simone Schwartz-Delgado, a senior regional protection officer at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It read: “UNCHR received confirmation that these three individuals were recognized as refugees by the government of Paraguay.
“UNHCR would like to remind the government of Sint Maarten of its responsibility under customary law to prevent the refoulement of these refugees to Syria, where they would be at risk of persecution,” Schwartz wrote. “It is relevant to note that Haiti is a country that lacks any asylum system or refugee law. There are thus insufficient procedural guarantees to prevent these refugees’ chain refoulement from Haiti to Syria.”
Attorney Muller told the court that there is a legal ground for removing the Syrians from the country and that St. Maarten does not have refugee legislation of refugee procedures.
“The alleged fear of the requestor has not been substantiated in any way. Apart from the bad economic situation not a single risk has been established for deportation to Haiti,” Muller wrote.
The court ruled that the treaty on the status of refugees does not apply in St. Maarten. However, the European Human Rights Treaty does apply and this treaty establishes that “nobody may be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatments or punishments.”
Deportation to a country where such risks exists, violate the human rights treaty, the court ruled.
But this did not help the three Syrians either, because they should have substantiated in detail how deportation would violate their rights. According to the court, the three men failed to do this. They did not submit a request to legalize their status on the island and they did not even substantiate their nationality.
“The travel pattern of the requestors is unclear and full of holes,” the court noted.
The Syrians traveled from Syria to Brazil, where they lost their Syrian passport to an unreliable middleman. Then they traveled on forged Israeli passports to Paragauy where they filed for asylum to prevent prosecution for traveling with these documents. When a judge told them it was better to leave the country, they traveled to the Dominican Republic, this time on forged Greek passports. From there they went to Haiti and St. Maarten, where they were arrested upon arrival on November 14 of last year.
“The many questions this story triggers have been left unanswered,” the court ruled. “The story of the trip does not tally with the stamps in the forged Greek passport and the date of their asylum-request in Paraguay.”
The court concluded that the requestors “did not make it plausible that deportation to whatever country includes a real risk at a treatment that is outlawed by the European Human Rights Treaty.”
The court also denied the Syrians their request to forbid deportation to Haiti, because they had not substantiated their position that Haiti will not admit them into the country.