Groups call for humanitarian approaches to Venezuelan refugees

An immediate moratorium on the fining and jailing of Venezuelan immigrants for illegal entry into Guyana is among the proposals from seven civil society organizations, which are calling on the government to urgently adopt “sensible humanitarian policies” to address the continued influx of persons fleeing Venezuela.

“In making the proposals set out…, the signatories of this statement are conscious of the very limited resources Guyana can bring to bear on a refugee crisis. However, we are also conscious that providing Venezuelans with the assurance that they will not be treated as criminals and hounded out of the country is a humanitarian response well within Guyana’s capacity to implement, the Amerindian Peoples Association, the Anglican Diocese of Guyana, Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc., the Guyana Islamic Trust, the Guyana Human Rights Association, Policy Forum Guyana and Red Thread said in a joint statement, which was issued on Thursday.

They urged that the judiciary cease with immediate effect the practice of fining and jailing illegal Venezuelan immigrants, the majority of whom are women.

They also called on the immigration authorities to respect Guyana’s international human rights obligations to children, who should not be separated from their families.

Additionally, they urged that the government give effect to the exhortation of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to adopt more flexible procedures with respect to lack of documentation, and to provide Venezuelans seeking temporary residence with security of tenure for a period of one or two years with permission to work.

Also proposed is the urgent revision and publication of any procedures applicable to Venezuelan-Guyanese citizens that would facilitate their remaining in Guyana and that the immigration authorities devise a form of temporary ID card, which can be provided to Venezuelans desirous of remaining in Guyana but not claiming refugee status.

The groups also urged that Toshaos in remote border communities, in liaison with Immigration authorities, be authorized and empowered to implement to a registration process of Venezuelans crossing the border.

“…our organizations are appealing to all Guyanese as individuals or organizations to develop a positive and welcoming approach to displaced Venezuelans. The attitude of ordinary citizens, as demonstrated wherever mass movements of peoples have taken place in recent year, is as critical as official policy in determining a successful outcome,” the groups said in the statement, while noting that they were calling on the government to act based on the principles of decency, humanitarian imperatives and our commitments under human rights conventions.

Four of the proposals rely on the Guidance Note issued by the UNHCR, which calls on States receiving and/or already hosting Venezuelans to allow them access to their territory, and to continue to adopt appropriate and pragmatic protection-oriented responses, building on existing good practices in the region.

According to the Note, “such arrangements are guided by the principle that providing international protection is a humanitarian and nonpolitical act”  and could, for example, include “…temporary protection or stay arrangements, or alternatively visa or labour migration arrangements that would offer access to legal residence and to a standard of treatment akin to international protection.”

The groups said their statement was prompted by their interaction with a delegation of Venezuelan citizens currently resident in Guyana.

They noted that Venezuelans estimate that some 30 of their nationals, many of whom are of Guyanese origin, arrive in Guyana every day without visas.

They added that the Venezuelan refugees already here are making clear that they are not looking for free services, that many of the Venezuelan-Guyanese among them can make arrangements with former family and friends, and that the overwhelming need is security of being here long enough to earn in order to sort out a more permanent future elsewhere.

The statement pointed out that the World Bank estimates 655,400 Venezuelans left the country since 2015. Further, it said a year ago a dollar was worth about 4,200 bolivars, while today it is worth 213,200 bolivars. The average monthly salary is US$3.

The groups highlighted the policies adopted by other countries to address the influx from Venezuela, such as the Border Mobility Card being issued in Colombia to allow movement around the border without a passport, but with migratory control.

The statement added that indigenous communities on Guyana’s borders have seen a substantial increase in numbers due to the return to their place of origin of people who left years ago.

“A local group has documented over a hundred undocumented Venezuelans. Many of them are Guyanese-Venezuelans, the second generation of those who fled in the 1980s when Guyana was experiencing conditions not dissimilar from what Venezuela is now passing through. Venezuela at that time opened its doors to them, they were allowed to work, they enjoyed the right to health to education and basic services…,” it added further.

The groups noted that in contrast, Venezuelan immigrants are complaining about their current treatment by Guyanese officialdom. They noted that Venezuelans complain of having to pay fines of $30,000 for illegal entry and that they also are forced to bribe the police with similar amounts. Venezuelan families are also being split up at entry points, they said, while adding that in one case a 14-year-old was returned to Venezuela for being without a passport, while his other family members were admitted.

The statement added that the number of undocumented Venezuelans is likely to increase because travelling overland costs roughly US$100 compared to the cost of flying to more distant Latin countries.

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