Support group launched for Venezuelans seeking refuge

Several civic and faith-based organisations have launched a support group to provide advice and assistance to Venezuelans seeking refuge from the ongoing turmoil in their homeland.

The Venezuela Support Group (VSG) has been founded by the Amerindian Peoples Association; the Guyana Human Rights Association; the Transparency Institute for Guyana Inc; the Moray House Trust; Policy Forum Guyana; Red Thread; the Roman Catholic Diocese of Guyana; and the Ursuline Sisters in Guyana.

In a press statement issued yesterday, the VSG said its member organisations have previously publicly expressed their concerns about the humanitarian aspect of the on-going crisis in Venezuela in press releases, panel discussions and in communications with various ministries.

It noted that concerns of the groups have been shaped by the need to distinguish humanitarian obligations to the Venezuelan people from political factors that currently influence both the internal crisis in Venezuela and the Caricom Secretariat’s reluctance to date to formulate specific advice to member States on how to respond to that crisis. They also noted the need to devise a flexible, evidence-based response appropriate to the relatively small numbers of Venezuelans currently in Guyana; and to respect the fact that Venezuelans in Guyana have documented their wish not to seek formal refugee status but to seek temporary renewable visas that allow them to earn money while in Guyana. 

The statement said the initial focus of the VSG will be on ensuring that persons arriving receive information and assistance to secure valid visas to remain in Guyana and are not exploited financially or abused in other ways.

It noted that the group has requested meetings with the Minister of Citizenship in order to brief the ministry on its aims and to establish liaison arrangements with the ministry.

The group said it has recently learnt that some consideration has been given to permit Venezuelans in Guyana to regularise their situation on the basis of possession of an ID card rather than a passport. “Although, to date, there has been no formal announcement by the Government of Guyana on the matter, we welcome this development in general as protecting Venezuelans against exposure to detention, fines and deportation,” it said, while pointing out that such a step would also align Guyana with the recent appeal made by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for neighbouring countries to adopt flexible arrangements of this nature.

The VSG said it will support the smooth implementation of any new regulations and related policy guidelines by ensuring the regulations and the accompanying procedures are known to arriving Venezuelans; by providing advice and, where necessary, accompaniment, in the process of regularising their presence in Guyana; by supporting Venezuelans in need of assistance to contact family or other persons; by making known social and welfare services which may be accessible to Venezuelans with special needs; by contributing to information-gathering initiatives, especially in interior communities; and by providing opportunities for Venezuelans to communicate with other Venezuelans.

Safeguarding the specifically humanitarian character of this response, it noted, is a high priority for the SVG, and, in particular, insulating it from attempts to politicize it or from any association with the border issue.

The VSG added that it is currently in the process of establishing offices made available by the Catholic Church in the compound opposite the Catholic Cathedral on Brickdam. It further said that its work is being supported in the initial phase by the UNHCR, which is in the process of establishing a permanent presence in Guyana.

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