Minister of Citizenship, Winston Felix, yesterday said plans are in motion for the setting up of a homestead settlement area for the 260 confirmed Venezuelans, who are occupying areas in Barima-Waini (Region One).
The Minister made the announcement during an interview with the Public Information and Press Services Unit of the Ministry of the Presidency at the end of the third multi-agency coordinating committee meeting held at the Ministry of Citizen-ship, Shiv Chanderpaul Drive, Georgetown.
The announcement marks a major shift in the manner in which the government has been handling Venezuelans who have crossed into Guyana to escape the ongoing economic and political crisis in their country.
Several local groups had banded together to provide aid to the Venezuelans and in March this year the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued new guidelines on how Venezuelans fleeing the crisis in their country were to be handled.
Hundreds of Venezuelans have crossed into Guyana in recent months but far larger numbers have left through Colombia and other countries. Trinidad has also seen a steady flow of Venezuelans across the Gulf of Paria.
Felix in the Ministry of the Presidency statement yesterday said that the resettlement area will allow the Venezuelans to be self-reliant
“It is intended that we [will] develop something like a homestead where families are accumulated and eventually we can move them into cash crop farming. We can encourage that so that in the first instance they can feed themselves and if they have surpluses they can sell. We are looking at crops for their sustenance and their immediate needs. Once you get that…going then the next thing is to guide them into areas in which they can sustain themselves. The immediate outcome is that we want to see them properly settled and they must be able to sustain themselves…,” he said.
The recent arrivals from Venezuela are mainly of the Warrau nation of Amerindians.
Felix said that the agencies on the committee will continue to play their roles in lending whatever aid is necessary to those in Region One while assessing the migration of Venezuelans into Cuyuni-Mazaruni (Region Seven).
“In the meantime, the Ministry of [Public] Health is continuing its vaccination [efforts]… [The Department of] Immigration is continuing the registration and support work… The Police [are] also following through with the support work to this committee. So, all agencies, locally, are locked into this committee to provide services and support for the Venezuelans in Guyana. We are also exploring the situation in Region Seven [in order] to find out where [the Venezuelans] are and what numbers we have to [cater for],” he said, according to the release.
The release said that the Committee has also been working alongside the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Human Rights’ Council (UNHRC) to determine areas of collaboration and support.
“Rather than criminalise the Venezuelans, Minister Felix said that the Committee and by extension, the Government, have chosen to respond to the situation in a humane manner, with concern for the safety, health, and accommodation of the migrants”, the release said.
The Region One administration in recent months has called for more help from central government in dealing with the influx of Venezuelans.
Yesterday’s meeting included United Nations Resident Coordinator, Mikiko Tanaka, and other representatives from UNICEF, IOM, the Civil Defence Commission (CDC), Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of Social Protection, among others.
UNHCR on March 14th released new guidance for governments to address the situation of Venezuelans in need of international protection and humanitarian assistance.
According to the UN media release, UNHCR’s guidelines encourage States to ensure Venezuelans have access to territory and refugee procedures. The UNHCR called 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 said. It 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 said that the broad circumstances leading to the outflow of Venezuelans would fall within the spirit of the Cartagena Declaration.
The release said that the UNHCR’s initial financial requirements for the implementation of the regional response for the Venezuela situation amounts to US$46 million.
On March 29, several local groups had called for an immediate moratorium on the fining and jailing of Venezuelan immigrants for illegal entry into Guyana. They called 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.
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.
They also proposed 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.