Following a multi-agency meeting yesterday, Minister of Citizenship, Winston Felix, has announced that the Immigration Department in Region One will within the week be reinforced to deal with the arrival of Venezuelans into Guyana.
Attempts by Stabroek News to reach Felix for an explanation of the nature of the reinforcement proved futile as his phone went unanswered.
A press statement from the Ministry of Presidency, quoted the Minister as saying that the “meeting is the coordinated effort to give structure to the Government’s response to the arrival of Venezuelans in Guyana.”
“This was an inter-agency meeting and we all discussed our various roles and how those roles will complement the other. I can say for sure that during the course of this week, we will be reinforcing the Immigration Department in Region One to deal with the arrival of Venezuelans into Guyana,” he reportedly added.
Felix explained that while the Ministries are still trying to finalise the number of Venezuelans, there are approximately 150 at White Water Village, Region One for which the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) has flown in supplies.
“There is a health post in White Water where the Ministry of Public Health has personnel dealing with vaccinations as they come into the country and so on and the CDC has sent in supplies including cots, pillows, tarpaulins, blankets and food supplies,” the Minister noted as he stressed that the Ministry of Citizenship will work with the Venezuelans who arrive and to the best of its abilities and resources, make every effort to provide assistance.
The multi-agency committee includes the Guyana Police Force, the Minis-tries of Communities, Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Social Protection, Public Health and Citizenship and the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) and was constituted to coordinate a response to the migration of Venezuelans into Guyana primarily through Barima-Waini (Region One) and Cuyuni- Mazaruni (Region Seven).
Last Thursday, Stabroek News reported that an influx of 100 Venezuelans to the Mabaruma sub-district over the weekend has created a further strain on the resources in Region One.
Region One Chairman Brentnol Ashley used his personal Facebook page on Monday to solicit donations on behalf of the Regional Disaster Relief Committee for “urgent assistance,” to provide clothing, food and other supplies for a party of close to 100 Venezuelans who made their way to the sub-district.
He told Stabroek News that the Venezuelans, who are mostly of the Warrau Nation, would have previously occupied land along the Orinoco and Amacuro areas and travelled to Guyana to escape the harsh economic situation facing Venezuela.
Last evening, Ashley told Stabroek News “We are still looking at the numbers we have in the communities of Khan Hill and Kamwatta; we are trying also to ascertain the approximate numbers at Waikuru and at White Water but we are working with the same numbers at Smith’s Creek,” Ashley said.
The Regional Chairman said health screenings would have commenced and a lot of the persons who were screened between the two areas: Kamwatta and Khan Hill were found to be infected with malaria and other diseases while others are said to be plagued by rashes and malnutrition.
“It’s a full screening, in fact over the last two days the Ministry of Health through the support of Region Four and Region Five would have sent in personnel to strengthen our health team in the region where we now have teams deployed in the Mabaruma Sub-Region at White Water, Morawhanna, MV Tabakay and in the Moruca Sub-Region at Kamwatta, Santa Cruz and in the Matarkai Sub-Region at Baramita. This is to enable all persons coming across from Venezuela to be screened; we do not have the ideal facilities for the situation. We would have liked to see where the person comes to a holding centre, be screened before they are allowed to come and be integrated into the local population because we need to be certain that they do not pose severe health risks coming from those areas in Venezuela,” the Chairman said.
“We have had numerous reports that there is the prevalence of HIV because there is a high percentage of commercial sex work that is on-going in Port Kaituma, in the Matarkai Sub-Region as well as Barama. Because of the socio-economic situation in Venezuela, many other Venezuelans apart from those from the Warraus that have come over are also coming so we have a high number. I cannot give an exact number right now as it relates to the Barama Area but we have a very high number and because of already existing security concerns our personnel are not able to get into that area to do an assessment and carry out screening and so forth” he added.
In the meantime, Ashley said they would have been engaged in several discussions at the Regional level to see how best they can strengthen their response to the existing challenges we are facing.
Notwithstanding, the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) continues to provide assistance through food and shelter.
“We are also in discussions as it relates to a long term plan; it may not be permanent but long term plan to deal with the number of persons. Currently we are holding persons at the church at Khan Hill and at two shacks in Kamwatta but then they still pose some hygiene and sanitation problem because we have to build pit latrines, we have to ensure they are educated to the hygiene and sanitation aspect and because of the language barrier which is a mixture of Warrau and Spanish that is giving us some difficulty right now,” he added.
Additionally, the Regional Disaster Management team would have convened a meeting where they discussed at length a number of security issues.
“The Guyana Police Force and the members of the Joint Services that are in the area would have been there and would have shared their views and they are coordinating a response as to how they are going to be dealing with these issues. We would have received assistance from the Ministry of Public Health with medications, as well as some amount of bed sheets and food supplies” Ashley said.
“Today, I was engaged with the International Organisation for Migration and we would have had lengthy discussions and they would have committed to donating non- food items such as care packages and so we have outlined a plan on how we can get it to the region to assist in the response. They would also have a designated representative on the team in the region to assist with distribution and to monitor the situation as well,” he added.
In March, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a guidance note on the handling of Venezuelans fleeing their country. The press release that accompanied the note said in part:
“.. UNHCR’s guidelines encourage States to ensure Venezuelans have access to territory and refugee procedures. In addition, UNHCR welcomes and 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 countries in Latin America that have introduced such arrangements, and hopes that costs and requirements are eased, where necessary to ensure accessibility. In view of the situation in Venezuela, it is crucial that people are not deported or forcibly returned there”.