UN issues new protection guidance for fleeing Venezuelans

In light of the continuing outflow of Venezuelans to neighbouring countries and beyond, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, on March 14th released new guidance for governments to address the situation of Venezuelans in need of international protection and humanitarian assistance.

According to a media release from UNHCR, the complex political and socio-economic developments in Venezuela, a country which has traditionally been host to thousands of refugees, has seen the number of people compelled to leave their homes continue to increase. While not all Venezuelans are leaving for refugee-related reasons, it is becoming increasingly clear that a significant number are in need of international protection.

There has been a 2,000 percent increase in the number of Venezuelan nationals seeking asylum worldwide since 2014, particularly in the Americas during the last year, the UN statement noted. In 2017, while over 94,000 Venezuelans were able to access refugee procedures in other countries, many more opted for other legal stay arrangements which provide the right to work, access to health and education. Yet, thousands of Venezuelans remain without any documentation or permission to stay legally in asylum countries, making them vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking, and violence.

According to the UN media release, UNHCR’s guidelines, within this context, encourage States to ensure Venezuelans have access to territory and refugee procedures. The UNHCR  calls on governments to adopt pragmatic protection-oriented responses for the Venezuelan people, such as alternative legal stay arrangements, including visas or temporary residence permits, as well as other regularization programmes, which guarantee access to the basic rights of health care, education, family unity, freedom of movement, shelter and the right to work. UNHCR applauds Latin American countries which have introduced such arrangements, and hopes that costs and requirements are eased, where necessary to ensure accessibility. The release further added that it was crucial that the people were not deported or forcibly returned to Venezuela.

Latin America, according to the UNHCR statement, has some of the world’s most progressive refugee arrangements, such as the Cartagena Declaration of 1984, which is based on the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and embodies a wider refugee definition. The statement considers that the broad circumstances leading to the outflow of Venezuelans would fall within the spirit of the Cartagena Declaration. While Governments in the region have been generous in their response, host communities receiving Venezuelans have come under increased strain and urgently need immediate and robust support, to promote peaceful coexistence and prevent manifestations of discrimination and xenophobia.

According to the media release, UNHCR is working with Governments to address the protection and basic needs of the outflow. It has developed a regional response plan that covers eight countries and the Caribbean sub-region. In particular, UNHCR seeks to strengthen national asylum and other international protection processes and step up its activities to foster a comprehensive, predictable and harmonized response to the plight of Venezuelans.

The UNHCR, the media release stated, will work towards these objectives, in particular access to protection, in cooperation with all levels of government, other stakeholders, including other UN Agencies, most notably the International Organisation of Migration, international organizations, civil society and the private sector, as well as facilitate the participation of Venezuelans and host communities.

UNHCR’s initial financial requirements for the implementation of the regional response for the Venezuela situation amounts to US$46 million.

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