All persons seeking to enter Guyana from Venezuela must follow the existing immigration rules which include the use of an official port of entry and proof of citizenship, Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge said yesterday.
“There is a law that applies to Venezuelans and others and what cabinet has done is to ask the two agencies (Citizenship and Foreign Affairs) to bear in mind the consideration … [that] the region as a whole would like us to stay away from criminalizing people… So in other words if they come in not having used the official point of entry we send them back to do that as opposed to arresting them, putting them before the courts and deporting them. It is in that sense … flexibility has been applied to the law”, Greenidge said following the conclusion of a press conference. Greenidge had told reporters earlier that there are laws which speak to entry into Guyana’s territory which both Guyanese and non-nationals ought to follow.
Of recent, concerns have been raised about the handling of a number of Venezuelans who have been seeking refuge in border communities. The neighbouring state has been experiencing a grave economic crisis and many are attempting to flee worsening conditions. Observers have questioned whether existing rules have been relaxed and whether border communities have been provided with guidelines to handle Venezuelans seeking refuge here. In the last few weeks, dozens of persons from the Warrau nation have arrived from Venezuela and are being accommodated in various communities in the north west.
Greenidge responding to questions after the press conference stressed that Guyana still has an obligation to uphold the law.
Earlier, the Minister noted that even Guyanese who are seeking to return from Venezuela are required to show proof of nationality. He said that they will be given time to do so and if they do not they will be treated as foreign nationals.
He noted that the law and the country’s constitution requires a person to prove they are Guyanese. “You just can’t appear on the border, say I am Guyanese and be shooed in. You have to establish if you are a Guyanese by birth or Guyanese by naturalization or by descent. All of that has to be established. If it can be established that you are Guyanese, (the) Guyana government has nothing to say about where you can go”, he said adding that in areas such as White Water in the northwest there are certain health requirements which have to be upheld.
“Whether you are Guyanese or not when you enter the territory from an area that has been subject to a pandemic …malaria, measles …some of these have severe implications for indigenous people, then you are required to ensure that you get vaccinated…That applies to everyone, irrespective of their nationality”, he said .
Greenidge added that Venezuelans like all other persons entering Guyana, are required to use an official point where they can request to stay. “The region as a whole is encouraging countries, to try and not deport these people or not jail them for immigration infractions, at least in the current era where there are special problems in Venezuela giving rise to the movement of people”, he noted.
He insisted that the authorities in border communities such as White Water are aware of these rules as well as the joint ministerial team which includes health, immigration and citizenship officials.
“They (the rules) were discussed in cabinet and they have been conveyed to the relevant ministers…There is nothing special about White Water and there are in some instances persons who are camped on the other side of the border …there are some in Guyanese territory seeking entry or the right to stay for longer periods and that is being handled”, he said.
Greenidge disclosed that health authorities are faced with Guyanese who are refusing to be vaccinated once given passage into Guyana. He insisted that if they resist this them, they will be asked to leave the country.
Several civic and faith-based organisations recently launched a support group to provide advice and assistance to Venezuelans seeking refuge here.
The Venezuela Support Group has been founded by the Amerindian Peoples Association; the Guyana Human Rights Association; the Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc; the Moray House Trust; Policy Forum Guyana; Red Thread; the Roman Catholic Diocese of Guyana; and the Ursuline Sisters in Guyana.
In March of this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued guidelines on the handling of Venezuelans crossing into neighbouring states.
Among other things, the UNHCR encouraged states to consider protection-oriented arrangements to enable legal stay for Venezuelans, with appropriate safeguards.
It said that in all circumstances, minimum standards would need to be guaranteed, namely:
a) Legality: The requirements and procedures for obtaining such arrangements would need to be defined and articulated under national law. UNHCR calls on States to ensure that persons benefiting from such arrangements are issued with an official document recognized by all government authorities.
b) Accessibility: The relevant arrangements would need to be accessible to all Venezuelans, irrespective of their date of entry into the host country. This would mean that there should be no or minimal costs associated with applying for such an arrangement, and that applications would be accepted in various locations across the territory to ensure that transportation costs are not prohibitive. Further, neither irregular entry/presence nor lack of identity documents would be viewed as a valid reason for denying access to such an arrangement.
c) Access to basic rights: Protection-based arrangements would also guarantee access to basic services and fundamental rights, on an equal basis with other foreign nationals who are legally resident on the State’s territory, in line with UNHCR’s Guidelines on Temporary Protection or Stay Arrangements. These rights include: 1) access to health care; 2) access to education; 3) family unity; 4) freedom of movement; 5) access to shelter, and 6) the right to work. These rights would be guaranteed on an equal and non-discriminatory basis.
d) Guarantees of non-return: In view of the current situation in Venezuela, UNHCR calls on States to ensure that holders of complementary forms of protection, temporary protection or stay arrangements, or visa or labour migration arrangements will not be deported, expelled, or in any other way forced to return to Venezuela, consistent with international refugee and human rights law. This guarantee would need to be assured either in the official identity document received or through other effective means, such as clear instructions to law enforcement agencies.