Human Rights Council warns against BES islands fatalism

The Neth­erlands Human Rights Council has warned against an increasing fatalism among the poorer seg­ment of the population of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. Concrete action of the Dutch government is needed to improve the standard of living on the is­lands and to raise the social minimum.

“People who are not well off financially are deeply dis­appointed,” said Member of the Human Rights Council Dick Houtzager in a meeting on  Tuesday with members of the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament.

Houtzager noted that peo­ple had hoped for things to get better when the islands became part of the Neth­erlands in October 2010. “Unfortunately, that has not been the case. This has resulted in a sort of fatalism. The resilience is gone. Hope has been crushed,” he said. Tuesday’s meeting served as preparation for a debate the Kingdom Relations Committee will have with State Secretary of Social Af­fairs Tamara van Ark and State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Rela­tions Raymond Knops on Thursday about the social minimum in the Caribbean Netherlands.

There is a big gap between the Caribbean Netherlands and the Netherlands in ar­eas such as employment, income, poverty eradica­tion and children’s rights. According to the Human Rights Council, concrete action from the side of the Dutch government is need­ed, including the establish­ing of a social minimum, the bare minimum amount that one needs to live a decent life.

In the Council’s opinion, the cost of living, which is high on the islands, needs to be included in the estab­lishing of the social mini­mum. Based on this social minimum, the Dutch gov­ernment should adjust the social welfare upwards and incorporate the cost of liv­ing, said Council member Houtzager.

However, these steps are not enough, said Houtza­ger. “That is too limited. An integral, broad approach is needed with more economic incentives to create employ­ment. The Dutch govern­ment needs to revive the resilience of the people, give them prospects.”

According to Houtzager, positive attention and con­crete action are needed to improve the living condi­tions of the people on the three islands, almost half of whom live below the poverty line. “People need more than a dot on the horizon,” he said, referring to the re­sponse by the Dutch govern­ment to the findings of the social minimum study that was released this summer. About the inadequate ac­tion on The Hague’s part to raise the social welfare and improve the standard of liv­ing on the islands, Houtza­ger said: “It seems there is insufficient political will to pay for this. It hampers the process to get this done.” Houtzager mentioned the lack of affordable (social) housing as one of the fac­tors that contributed to pov­erty. Generally, there is not enough low-income hous­ing. Some people are lucky enough to have a low-rent home provided by a social housing foundation. But others are not and have to pay high rent in the com­mercial rental sector, while waiting for a long time to get social housing.

As a result, oftentimes sev­eral families live under one roof to be able to cover the high rent, Houtzagcr ex­plained. This leads to prob­lems such as domestic vio­lence, abuse, the absence of a quiet room where the chil­dren can do their homework and health-related issues. “We are concerned about the human rights situation on the islands. Poverty is acute. Postponing the in­troduction of a social mini­mum is no longer accept­able,” he said.

The Daily Herald.

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