Despite a time of Covid, big fines of up to USD 1200 are being levied by the Immigration & Naturalisation Service (IND) on airport departing visitors from St. Eustatius who have overstayed their statutory three months period.
Last week, one such passenger, Chris Russell who is a pensioner and married to a Statian was told that he had exceeded his stay by 99 days and was duly fined US 800 - without a receipt.
“Throughout the world, millions of people have been displaced by travel restrictions or border closures because of the pandemic,” Russell maintains. “That is why most governments including the Netherlands have negotiated a relaxation of visa regulations with nearly all countries to assist foreign and Dutch nationals that are stranded. However, this level of common sense and understanding has not reached the IND that operates out of Bonaire and controls the BES islands.”
“My original return flight to Europe was cancelled and as a result of Brexit, I could not return to The Netherlands where I live because of a travel ban for non-EU nationals. So I was stuck between the Golden Rock and a hard place!”
“Last Monday, the IND office at the F.D.R. airport was a mess. Because her immigration colleague was late, the agent had to control the incoming arrivals before she could deal with departures. This when Winair – despite broken promises to the Dutch Government – operates only a few flights a week.”
“With a smiling face, the agent ignored my situation, disbelieved me and kept me prisoner until the last moment whilst the plane was waiting on the tarmac.”
When it became evident that Mr. Russell would be stuck on the island, he was assured by the Statia IND office on the Cottageweg that he would simply have to explain his circumstance at the airport and he would be granted freedom to pass. He was also informed that some 200 other visitors to Statia have also been displaced and are unable to return home.
“It beggars belief that the IND that is run by the Ministry of Justice should be represented by a badge in such an unjust way,” Russell explains. “The Historical Gem is a wonderful Island with wonderful people. Such attitude and conduct does not assist the local tourist economy or anybody.”