Cuban nationals Yoandy Diaz Fernandez, Reynaldo Haten Riesch and Marisleyvis de la Caridad Lamos Castro on Thursday evening after spending 40 days behind bars for entering the county without proper documentation.
PHILIPSBURG–Just hours after being released from staying in an uncomfortable prison cell for forty days, Cuban nationals Yoandy Diaz Fernandez (35), Reynaldo Haten Riesch (49) and Marisleyvis de la Caridad Lamos Castro (30) are traumatised by their experience staying in one of the Philipsburg police station holding cells since respectively April 17, 18 and 28 this year.
In an interview with The Daily Herald on Thursday, the Cubans wanted to share their story with the public.
Riesch had entered St. Maarten by boat from St. Lucia around September 5, 2018, but had failed to report himself to the Immigration and Border Protection (IBP) Service. As he did not have an official permit to stay in St. Maarten he was denied access.
The other two, who had no connection with Riesch, had sailed from St. Lucia to St. Maarten around March 22, 2019, and also did not have permits to stay here.
“When they arrived, I gave them US $50 because we Cubans help each other. I did not know them personally, but I wanted to help them since they knew nobody on island,” said a nervous Riesch through translator Gromyko Wilson of 721news.
He was arrested on April 18 as a suspect in a human-smuggling case and a day later he was handed over to IBP for expulsion. His fellow Cubans were held for violation of the National Ordinance Admittance and Expulsion LTU on April 17 and April 27, respectively.
The Attorney-General of St. Lucia sent out a memorandum on May 20 in which it was stated that the three Cubans would not be admitted in St. Lucia because they had stayed illegally in St. Lucia and had travelled illegally to St. Maarten. Since then, the three Cubans have been awaiting their expulsion to Cuba, which they fear because they consider themselves refugees and at risk of persecution and torture in their home country.
Reynaldo recalls his first days in detention as gruesome and inhumane. Officer Rudolph Bloeiman and Immigration Officer Riginald Gressmann were named as forceful characters and allegedly violated the Cubans’ human rights throughout their 40 days at the Philipsburg police station.
“Bloeiman treated us like animals and told us on countless occasions that we are trash and we have no right to a lawyer. I repeatedly requested a lawyer from the Immigration and police on a daily basis. I was told that I am on island illegally and cannot get a lawyer. The treatment by the Gressmann Immigration official was also not good and many times came across as aggressive,” said Reynaldo.
Days afterward, Attorney Remco Stomp was contacted by Immigration.
“Mr. Stomp asked us if we have any money or do we have any family members who can pay him in order for him to represent us. I told him that we have a couple of hundred bucks that was confiscated while being detained. Mr. Stomp said that we needed to pay him in order for him to take the case and that he will arrange for them to go downstairs and get the money for him. Personal belongings of the detainees are held by the police in a locker facility.
“Prison guards came and brought us downstairs the next day and we took out $600 for the lawyer. We asked for a receipt and wanted to know what exactly we were paying for. However, the lawyer did not tell us. I found that strange, because we wanted to know if this was for court fees or just for him to represent us. We did not see Mr. Stomp again after that day,” said Reynaldo.
Days later, an Immigration officer informed the Cubans that they would be heading to court on June 7. The Cubans were being held among detained crime suspects without the prospect of eviction from St. Maarten in the short term. The documents, the Cubans had to sign were in Dutch or English, while they only speak Spanish. No chance was given to them to file for asylum or humanitarian residency status.
“We arrived in Court on June 7 and we had our lawyer there and other people. We asked for a translator and were told that no translator was available. I told the judge that we do not understand, to please get a translator, and Mr. Stomp told me to stay quiet because I would get the judge angry. The case was discussed, we guess, and the verdict was given two days after.
“We were told that we lost the case via email brought to us by a guard and our lawyer was nowhere to be found. When we arrived at the courthouse for the verdict, Mr. Stomp was not present. We were told that we lost the case and will be deported back to Cuba,” stated Riesch.
Stomp had explained to this newspaper last week that in the procedure on which the Court ruled on Wednesday, June 12, the Court did not consider the three Cubans’ detention illegal, as they did not have any permits to stay on the island. Also, they did not have refugee status in Dutch St. Maarten or in French St. Martin.
The Judge also rejected the appeals to the refugee and human rights treaties, as the Cubans had failed to make it plausible that their rights were violated. Therefore, the Judge ruled their detention for the purpose of their expulsion to be lawful.
“Deporting individuals who do not adhere to local immigration rules is by itself not unusual, and even acceptable to many. Certainly for an island country with limited resources and space, a robust immigration policy is vital. Due to the importance of it, it should be properly handled,” the Cubans’ lawyer Stomp said.
“The law states that in case there is a possibility to deport an individual in a short time, one can be kept imprisoned. The law also states that anyone who is deprived of his or her freedom is entitled to an attorney, paid, if necessary, by the State.
“In addition, the law also provides those arrested with the right to be informed, in a language they understand, of the reasons for the arrest and any charge they face, and the right to prompt access to judicial proceedings to determine the legality of the arrest or detention.”
The facilities to hold people, suspects and undocumented alike, may be – very – basic, but should at least be clean, with fresh water and food available, access to fresh air and daylight, and a minimum amount of private space for each individual.
“The law also stipulates that anyone who requires protection is entitled to file for asylum or a status on humanitarian grounds. So, what went wrong in this case? The answer can be short: all of the above,” Stomp said.
“The cells in which they were being kept are the same notorious cells in which, recently, an Italian businessman [Francesco Corallo – Ed.] and many others with him were held.
“The Netherlands, as Kingdom partner, was convicted, notably by the European Court of Human Rights itself, for violating Article 3 of the European Convention for Human Rights that states that no one should be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, a shameful ordeal for one of the most prosperous and presumably civilised countries in Western Europe, and the Kingdom as a whole,” Stomp added.
Already in 2015 the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment CPT labelled the local police cells “totally inappropriate” for holding prisoners. “Meanwhile, the cells remain the same,” said Stomp.
The Cubans managed to get three self-made knives from other inmates in lockup and decided collectively to end their lives, as they saw no light at the end of a dark cell. It is unclear how these other inmates were able to come into the possession of self-made knives in the police cells.
“We decided to kill ourselves because they told us that we are going to be shipped back to Cuba. We took the knives and started to cut our arms,” recalled Fernandez.
They were taken to St. Maarten Medical Centre, where their wounds were stitched.
“When Bloeiman noticed that we had to be rushed to the hospital, he did not say anything until we got back in our cells at the police station. He let us know that we should try kill ourselves again, because no matter what, we will be staying behind bars. He said that he lives well here on the island and that my friends and I are not coming to ruin the island. He really was being aggressive with me.”
Several days later officers came into the cell and took them to the medical room of the police station where another doctor [name known to this newspaper – Ed.] was present to remove their stitches.
“The doctor is not a good doctor, because while removing the stiches to my hand he told me that I should cut deeper if I want to die instantly. I was shocked that a doctor told me this,” said Fernandez, the only woman in the group.
“The doctor was very rude to us and called me a ‘puta’ [‘whore’] after I told the guards that I do not want him as my doctor. He seemed like he was intoxicated, because he started yelling at me and told the guards to take me away.”
She also told this newspaper that she had received 16 pills from the doctor for her recovery. She took all 16 tablets with the intention to kill herself. Then another 16 were provided to her the next day.
“Thanks to another female inmate who did not want to see me die, and took the pills away from me and threw them away,” said Fernandez.
Riesch recalled another violent incident. “One day, a guard opened our cell and another big and tall Immigration officer came inside together with Gressmann and started to assault me, asking if I have a problem with him. I kept saying that they [officers] are all corrupt. He slammed me against the wall and one woman Immigration officer saw the abuse and started to cry. The officer left the cell and the guard locked my cell gate,” Riesch stated.
Their eventual release was the result of contact between the Justice Department and the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR, Refugee Protection and International Migration. It was decided to explore the possibility to give them the official status of refugee. While the research is being done the Minister decided to release them, but under the condition they report to the police station on a weekly basis.
“Guards and Immigration officers came to our cell on Thursday and told us that we are free to go. We asked for our passports, but they said no. We only have the e-mail from the UNHCR and have to go to the police station every Friday to sign in. I am very scared to go back to the police station because the officers were not pleasant and I feel that they will find something to hold us again,” said Riesch.
He added that if they had not been released on Thursday, they had already discussed to try taking their lives on Monday, as nobody was standing up for them.
The three Cubans wish to not think about the ordeal anymore and cautioned the St. Maarten justice system to take a serious look at the way it deals with individuals in the Immigration system.
The Police Force, Stomp and the doctor in question were contacted on Friday for comment on the allegations made by the Cubans, but this newspaper had received no response up to press time.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/88749-freed-cubans-tell-story-of-inhumane-treatment