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Monday, June 26, 2006 

Monday, June 26, 2006 - Philipsburg, St. Maarten, N.A.

Open border

Twelve years after it was signed by then-deputy prime minister Leo Chance, the Franco-Dutch treaty on joint immigration control at Princess Juliana International Airport still has not been ratified by the Dutch Parliament. The main reason is objections by the island territory of St. Maarten, as well as its representatives in the Antillean Parliament.

Much of it has to do with other Caribbean countries for which the French side required a visa, but the Netherlands Antilles and as a result the Dutch side did not. The concern was that while Caribbean nationals would no longer be welcome without such visas, citizens of all members states of the European Union (EU) would, which some claimed could even lead to “genocide by substitution” of the Afro-Caribbean population.

The latter is partly an emotional argument, because while citizens of EU states may no longer require visas for the Dutch side, that does not affect the Admittance and Expulsion Ordinance that only allows them to stay for a certain period of time, unless they can prove they have legal residency on the French side. At the moment they already can establish themselves there freely anyway.

If Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot is correct, much of the concern has actually been addressed in the past decade; among other things, because the Antilles adopted basically the same visa requirements as the Netherlands, the EU and thus France, but with an exception for 13 Caribbean countries in the interest of regional purchase tourism. France has agreed to do the same where it pertains to St. Martin for nine of these countries, leaving only Suriname, Dominica, Jamaica and Guyana.

The reality is that St. Maarten actually had wanted a visa requirement for the latter two countries because of its immigration problem, but Curaçao had pushed the exception for them primarily in the interest of its Free Zone. Considering the recent problems with immigration and human smuggling out of Dominica, some now argue that applying the French visa requirement for that country at the airport which serves both sides of the island might not be such a bad idea either.

There are other issues, such as the authority of the committee in determining what are the so-called “risk flights” to be subjected to the joint immigration control, but if the members to represent the Dutch Kingdom in the committee and accompanying work group are indeed to be nominated by the Island Territory of St. Maarten, there is no reason to believe this will become a problem.

Like it or not, the bottom line is that with the French side opting to remain an integral part of France and the EU, while the Dutch side is not part of Holland, practical ways and means will have to be found to work together in the future so that the principle of free movement of people and goods between the two sides of the island as laid down in the Treaty of Concordia can be maintained.
Without such cooperation, there might well come a day most people on this island would hope never to see, when the border is no longer open.

Copyright ©2006 The Daily Herald St. Maarten

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