A number of Guyanese organisations are calling on Governments and civil societies of Caricom to recognize the scale of the humanitarian crisis currently experienced by the people of Venezuela.
A release from the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) on behalf of the groups said that collaboration by relevant civic, business and Government agencies might begin by ensuring registration of Venezuelan refugees arriving at Caricom’s borders, thereby both providing them with legal protection and discouraging illegal entry through porous borders and beaches.
The GHRA listed the subscribers to the release as the Anglican Diocese of Guyana, Rt. Rev Bishop Francis Alleyne RC Bishop of Guyana, BENAB – (Youth), Church Women United, East Coast Clean-Up Committees, Guyana Society for the Blind (GSB), Guyana Environ-ment Initiative (GEI), Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), Guyanese Organization of Indigenous peoples (GOIP), Jesuits in Guyana, Policy Forum Guyana, Red Thread, Rights of Children (ROC), Trans-parency Institute Guyana Inc and Ursuline Sisters in Guyana.
The release contended that Caricom countries are already beginning to feel the effects of the thousands of refugees seeking asylum in neighbouring Latin American countries as a result of the severe economic disintegration and political instability.
The effects of the economic chaos, the release said, is reflected in the rising numbers of refugees which threaten to overwhelm welfare and health systems in countries such as Colombia, Brazil and Panama, with a potential for similar effects in neighbouring Caricom territories.
It said that a particularly worrying dimension of the Venezuelan crisis for Caricom countries was pointed out in June 2017 by UWI Professor of Sustainable Development, Dr. Anthony Clayton who was quoted in the Jamaica Gleaner thusly: “The problem we are facing is, because with Venezuela’s economic collapse, there is now evidence of weapons flooding out of Venezuela, initially into Trinidad, but which will come percolating through the Caribbean. Venezuela has got more guns per person than almost any other country in the (western) hemisphere, including the United States.”
GHRA said that he went on to point out that former President Chavez armed militias all over the country to combat the threat of invasion and “now, with the economy collapsing, a lot of them are selling their weapons and they are selling them for groceries, pharmaceuticals and basic survival items”.
Noting that reluctance to ‘interfere’ in domestic politics has been a guiding principle of Caricom relations, GHRA said that the question at the present time, however, is whether this posture of avoidance has discouraged Caricom Governments from developing or adopting reception policies through which to address a major influx of refugees.
Despite the security issues and the fact that Caricom’s capacity for delivering health and welfare services are limited, these factors do not absolve Caricom countries from the responsibility of developing just and fraternal reception policies and of respecting the rights of refugees, the release said.
“As civil and faith-based organizations our responsibility to engage with the humanitarian dimensions of the Venezuelan crisis is no less real than that of Governments. For this reason in a spirit of solidarity and social justice and in collaboration with relevant international agencies, we commit to engaging with the challenge of promoting the protection of the fundamental rights of Venezuelan refugees”, the release said.