WILLEMSTAD, Curacao, Wednesday April 6, 2016 – The only known Syrian refugee in Curacao thought his troubles were over when he arrived in the Dutch island, theoretically opening the door to the Netherlands and the rest of Europe.
Little did he know that his troubles had only just begun from the moment he set foot on the Netherlands Antilles territory.
According to a report by Dick Drayer in the Curacao Chronicle, Aktham Abu Fakher was treated as an illegal immigrant in the absence of appropriate legislation and was incarcerated in the immigration barracks of SDKK prison without anyone listening to his story.
The Red Cross, which is mandated by the refugee agency of the United Nations (UNHCR) to help refugees, did not visit him, the report added.
Quoting Persbureau as its source, the Chronicle said that Fakher was put ashore at Jan Sofat by a Venezuelan smuggler on January 19.
The six-hour boat trip to Curacao was said to have cost $1,200, but the Syrian’s port of origin and how he got there is unclear.
A bus driver took Fakher to the police station in Punda, where he reportedly requested political asylum.
“I thought, Curacao is part of the Netherlands, here I am safe. But then the nightmare began,” he said.
The officers at the Bureau in Punda reportedly did not know what to do with him, so they decided to keep him as an illegal alien and took him to immigration.
There, too, the procedure was not initially clear and the department head sent him to the illegal aliens’ barracks at the prison.
There Fakher remained for almost three months.
An immigration official visited him a week after he had been taken to the barracks, but any hope of resolving his case was dashed with the news that Curaçao has decided to send him back to Syria.
Fakher protested that he was an opponent of the Assad regime and would be arrested and possibly murdered.
“That is better than that you come here to murder us,” the official reportedly responded.
Late last month, Fakher managed to make contact with Curacao’s Islamic community, which mainly consists of people of Lebanese or Syrian descent.
Fakher himself is not a Muslim, but a Druze, a small religious community with members in Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Syria.
He nevertheless appeared to have received some form of assistance.
“I hope to travel this Thursday or Friday to the Netherlands to seek asylum. Until then I am safe in the mosque,” he was quoted as saying.