Netherlands must regularise Ex-Dutch Surinamese Individuals Living Undocumented in the Netherlands

During its era of colonisation, the Dutch territory expanded east to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and West to Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles, colonising Suriname in 1667. Prior to decolonisation, ‘all inhabitants of the Kingdom of the Netherlands were of Dutch nationality’. Suriname declared independence in 1975. Those on the newly independent territory lost their Dutch citizenship and gained Surinamese citizenship. They also lost the rights attached to Dutch citizenship due to the ‘closure of the borders of the Netherlands to people from Suriname’. Surinamese people now became ‘legal aliens’ despite having lived in the Netherlands up until independence. That being said, for approximately five years following independence, Surinamese legal aliens ‘could rely on a privileged admission policy’, but this liberal admission policy for ex-Dutch Surinamese people was put to a stop in 1980 and ‘the admission of Surinamese people into the Netherlands changed and became (almost) as strict as the admission of other foreigners’. Such policies have left a number of ex-Dutch Surinamese people in the Netherlands undocumented.

Now, a small population of undocumented ex-Dutch Surinamese people live in the Netherlands (approximately 750-1000 people in Amsterdam, which is the main city of residence for this group) without access to lawful presence, which places them in a particularly vulnerable position.

The Migration Law Clinic wrote an expert opinion arguing that, on the basis of Article 12(4) ICCPR (right to enter one’s own country), and Article 8 ECHR (right to private and family life), the Netherlands is obliged to regularise this group of people.

The expert opinion contends that the Netherlands must be considered as the ‘own country’ of the ex-Dutch Surinamese population living undocumented on its territory. This is based, inter alia, on an accumulation of individual circumstances, such as long-standing residence, language skills, social and family ties and intention to remain; combined with having been born on Dutch soil and having held Dutch nationality at the time.

Failure to regularise this group within their own country constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of their rights, since there are few, if any, reasons to hinder one from enjoying the right to reside safely in one’s own country. Although the Netherlands has tolerated the group in question for decades on its territory, it has refrained from taking action to ensure the individuals’ safe envoyment of right within their own country, in violation with its obligations under Article 12(4) ICCPR.

Further, the expert opinion argues that the ex-Dutch Surinamese population living undocumented in the Netherlands have the right to family life within the meaning of Article 8 ECHR due to the additional elements of dependence that bring their familial relationships in the realm of more than ‘normal emotional ties’. The particular circumstances of these individuals include:

  • their formal status as Dutch citizens whose citizenship was removed without their consent;
  • the decades that the Dutch State has tolerated their presence and allowed them to build deep relationships in the Netherlands
  • the hardship that the individuals and their family members would face if returned to Suriname;
  • the fact that they potentially could have requested a residence permit in the past; and finally,
  • their special ties to the Netherlands as formerly colonised individuals.

All of these circumstances taken cumulatively rise to the level of exceptional circumstances and outweigh the mere interest of the State to maintain a restrictive immigration policy (in the name of protecting the economic well-being of the country and/or to ensure public order). This is all the more true that the State allowed these individuals to languish in legal uncertainty for decades with no actions to ameliorate their situation. therefore, these individuals have a right to respect for their family life, and the Dutch State has the positive obligation to ensure this respect for family life by regulating the administrative status of the people concerned.

The expert opinion can be consulted below: