Yesterday, September 16, 2020, locals and residents of the island stood up together and demonstrated against a further extension of border controls by the French side. Since the beginning of March this year, people have been living separately, an intolerable and unreasonable situation, ordered by the French state only. The reason for of this order – to restrict the freedom of movement of all islanders so massively – was that the Covid-19 virus should not spread.
Even both local governments were against another extension of the border controls, but since the French part is also part of the EU, the French government representatives wanted to keep the internal borders closed, since on the Dutch part American tourists with negative PCR tests were allowed to enter. For better understanding, it should be mentioned that the border regulations are controlled by the Dutch and the French and not by the local governments.
However, the impact of this decision was immense and made life on the island even more difficult, at a time when tourism worldwide is completely down and there are currently almost no tourists and therefore no income coming to this island. The economic impact of the global situation alone is difficult enough, so the call for united hygiene and travel restrictions here on the island has become louder and louder.
To make matters worse, since 1648 there has been the “Treaty of Concordia”, which clearly regulates that all born St. Maarteners and St. Martiners are allowed to move freely across the island, to live and work on both sides. This regulation, which has been in force for 372 years, was thus repealed.
For months, individual requests for exemption had to be made, some of which were rejected, or took so long to process that the reason for the request was no longer valid. Even with a certificate, there were repeated rejections on re-entry to the French side, which caused the resentment of the population to swell.
Not even boat trips were allowed around the entire island, since the border was also kept up in the waters around the island. Something that had never existed before!
Due to the separation, the hospital on the French side was no longer accessible to people from the Dutch part, nor were the French doctors, pharmacies and laboratories.
Families were separated for more than 7 months, schools, kindergartens were unreachable, businessmen could not open their stores because they could not reach them, vacationers could only visit one half of the island at a time, etc.
When French gendarmes turned away French children, which were living on the Dutch part of the island on their way to school in the morning, things turned hot. The parents then complained loudly at the border in the morning, since many of them are French citizens as well. French border controls did not allow French parents and their children to enter the French part, while mainland France has reopened the borders quite a while ago.
As a result, the locals stood at the border every morning with their cell phones and reported about these intolerable conditions via live streams. They complained that the French government was making the wrong decisions against the inhabitants of this island, while vacationers were allowed to enter the country via Guadeloupe and Martinique, but the local population is not even allowed to go to school on the French Side.
Residents referred again and again to the “Treaty of Concordia”, which was concluded for this very reason, namely to regulate the common life of two nations on a small island together and not every nation for itself.Doctors wrote an open later stating, that Covid-19 cannot be the excuse for this border closure anymore. Local government officials agreed to open the border, but Madame Prefect said “no”
After much to and fro, the children were smuggled over the border in order to reach their schools. The government then “allowed” that a written application signed by the Prefecture could allow the kids to school. People of St. Martin just had enough of that kind of procedure and attitude by the Prefect, in fact the islanders felt so patronized that they asked for the immediate opening of the borders several times loud and clear by public letter. The French government remained firm, so that the inhabitants called for a demonstration, announcing that they were ready to demand their rights by force if necessary.
They feel that the measures the government is taking to combat the virus are unjustified and not conducive to achieving their goals, and even incomprehensible. Much has been accepted, also for fear of becoming infected, willing to accept hygiene measures, but no longer the separation of the entire island population.
Despite heat and bright sunshine, the demonstrators held out at the border until a peaceful agreement was reached with the French government and gendarmes dismantled their tents yesterday and Madame Prefect decided that the border is now open.
So from now on all inhabitants and tourists can reach the whole island and this is generally considered a success. Enjoy the entire island!