In September 2017, in the Demerara Waves Online News, Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge was quoted as saying, “Guyana will soon put in place a more lenient immigration policy to avoid persons fleeing harsh economic and political conditions in their homeland from being deported for illegal entry.” Since then there have been numerous news stories of Venezuelans being fined or imprisoned then deported for illegal entry. What sort of lenient immigration policy was put in place?
Recently, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced new guidlines for governments to address the situation of persons in need of international protection and humanitarian assistance. “The UNHCR encourages 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.”
This body further states, “In view of the situation in Venezuela, it is crucial that people are not deported or forcibly returned there.” What will Guyana’s response be?
The majority of Venezuelans are fleeing to other countries in South America. Colombia is host to thousands and the rest are mainly going to other Spanish speaking countries and Brazil. According to the Organisation for Migration (IOM), in 2017 over 600,000 Venezuelans emigrated. Colombia received 470,000 persons, Argentina over 41,000, Ecuador 39,000 and the others figures in the thousands. How many Venezuelans have come here? Probably due to a similar culture, language, historical and personal ties with the rest of Latin America our figures are minuscule in comparison.
Apart from showing compassion and empathy to those fleeing the chaos and starvation in their country, many Guyanese benefited from the generosity of Venezuela previously. During our own upheaval Guyanese fled there and found sanctuary.
The government along with the international aid agencies should assist those who come. By not helping we condemn the affected to further misery and make them susceptible to exploitation, abuse and to be used by criminals for their own nefarious activities. Surely, some sort of system can be implemented whereby the Venezuelans can be issued with proper documentation which would allow them to remain, at least temporarily without fear of deportation.
We live in an interconnected world where we have benefited from each other immensely through many endeavours, including economic, educational and cultural exchanges with Venezuela and the rest of the world. Sometimes, compassion is most needed instead of apathy and cruelty.