PHILIPSBURG--The Court of First Instance on Friday ordered the release of a man with French/Nigerian nationality, who was held June 17 for travelling with a false travel document.
The man was arrested by members of the Police Alpha Team at Princess Juliana International Airport during a stopover after a flight from New York and handed over to the Prosecutor’s Office.
On June 20 an Investigating Judge ordered the man’s immediate release, after which the Prosecutor transferred him to the Immigration and Border Protection Services for expulsion. Since then, the man was held in detention at the Police Station.
He filed for appeal against the Minister of Justice’s decisions of June 20, in which it was stated that he was considered an illegal alien and should therefore be expelled. Pending his expulsion, he was to be detained and was banned from re-entering St. Maarten for three years.
No decision had been made on the appeal as yet, but on August 2 he filed a petition with the Court to lift his detention.
According to the man, he holds French and Nigerian nationality. He agreed that he does not hold any title to stay in St. Maarten, as he was only passing through.
His lawyer Shaira Bommel claimed that it was not proven that her client’s passport was false. She also said that the Prosecutor had overstepped his authority in handing over her client to the Immigration Services as this is the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Justice.
Bommel also stated that her client’s detention was disproportionate as he had not been disturbing public order. She pointed out that her client was detained in an unhygienic cell at the Police Station for seven weeks, whereas the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment CPT recommends detention of no longer than 10 days, as the facility is deemed unsuitable for longer stays.
The Minister of Justice, represented in these proceedings by attorney-at-law Amador Muller, objected to release as the Ministry was not yet successful in establishing the traveller’s true identity. Besides, the man does not have an authentic and valid travel document based on which he would be able to leave the island. Because he is currently residing in St. Maarten without a legal title he is considered an illegal alien, according to the Justice Ministry.
Via the man’s family the Immigration Services had requested an alternative identification document, which, however, also proved to be false. Therefore, the Ministry considered it “by no means justified” to set the man free.
The minister would also prefer that conditions in the police cell were better, “but that is how it has been for years,” it was stated. The petitioner will be removed as soon as he presents an authentic and valid travel document through the government of his country of origin, on the basis of which his identity can be established, the Ministry stated.
The Court deemed the man’s detention at the Police Station lawful but said that the duration of detention should be limited to a “foreseeable term” of, in principle, 10 to 14 days.
The Judge established that the Justice Ministry’s efforts to establish the man’s identity and to obtain a valid travel document had failed. The Court, therefore, decided to immediately lift the applicant’s detention because there are currently no ongoing investigations into his identity or into his possible expulsion.
The Ministry was ordered to refrain from any measure aimed at detaining the petitioner for up to six weeks after a decision has been made on the petitioner’s appeal.
The Court did not award damages as the detention was considered lawful. The Ministry, however, was ordered to pay the applicant’s lawyer’s salaries.