Venezuela’s forced displacement crisis is, today, the second largest in the world after Syria’s, and the largest on record in the recent history of the Americas. If trends continue, it’ll soon take the first spot in terms of the number of forced displaced persons worldwide, and the country isn’t in the middle of an armed conflict.
Today, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report that 93,291 Venezuelans in the world have been formally recognized as refugees by their hosts governments. Around 896,069 of the over five million who left their country are asylum-seekers, eagerly waiting to be recognized as refugees. This is additional to the remaining 4,092,810 Venezuelans who also moved to other countries and are either in an irregular situation or were able to regularize their status. A total of 5,082,170 have already left the country.
Where are Venezuelan refugees and asylum seekers? And how are the countries responding today, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Recognized Venezuelan refugees per country
We all know the key conditions that most forcibly displaced Venezuelans face, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Most can’t cover their basic needs.
- Most don’t have a home, or have to share with many other fellow nationals to save money, during a period of social isolation.
- The majority, due to their irregularity and how they’re predominantly connected to informal jobs, are unable to provide income to their families.
- Most don’t have health insurance or coverage, and therefore have difficulty accessing health services in general, and more so if they catch the COVID-19 virus.
So what’s been happening in some of the countries receiving Venezuelans? How have they responded to the displacement crisis in general, and in the context of the pandemic?
Most countries have been showing solidarity with Venezuelan migrants and refugees (insofar as their legal frameworks and fiscal spaces allow it). We could probably categorize them in at least four groups:
- Those making deadlines and legal requirements for asylum applications and other regularization options more flexible for displaced Venezuelans, extending the validity of stay permits and visas that ultimately seek to adapt existing processes to the contingencies that COVID-19 is generating.
- Those that prioritize the guaranteed access to health, a basic human right in regular contexts, let alone during a pandemic.
- Those that are including displaced Venezuelans in the group of beneficiaries of measures that alleviate the economic effects of the pandemic. They’re letting them have access to monetary transfer programs, making the payment of housing rents more flexible, and giving them access to food subsidies; also the provision of shelters.
- Those who seek to take advantage of these Venezuelans’ talents in the receiving states.
Let’s briefly review some measures in the countries receiving the most displaced Venezuelas.
Currently, Colombia is home to 1,809,872 Venezuelans. Around 784,234 are in a regular status, while there are 5,303 asylum-seekers and 140 have been recognized as refugees.
To give protection to these Venezuelans during the pandemic, Colombia designed a six-point plan to care for the migrant population that include (a) having a responsible and humanitarian management of the border, (b) guaranteeing access to health for Venezuelans in Colombia, (c) adapting cooperation programs so they can include Venezuelan migrants, (d) designing programs to specially tend to the vulnerable migrant population, (e) targeting programs at high impact points in municipalities, and (f) greater coordination and information.
Colombia has also established humanitarian corridors at three international bridges on the Colombia-Venezuela border, has suspended or relaxed permanence requirements and, although they’re not incorporating Venezuelans in the response as flexibly as others, they have developed proposals for the process of validation of professional titles in the health area, in an effort to make the most out of Venezuelan talent.
Peru is currently the number one country in terms of asylum applications from Venezuelans, worldwide. They’re also the receiving country for a total of 829,677 Venezuelans; of this, 628,976 have regular status, and there are 482,571 paisanos as asylum seekers. A small group of 1,225 have now been formally recognized as refugees.
Peru has tried to guarantee protection to the Venezuelan displaced population. Some of their responses have included guaranteed access to the Peruvian territory to those asylum seekers stranded at the border.
They have also suspended deportation orders, and excused fines for prolonged irregular stays, and they have created an international cooperation support fund to assist the foreign population and more importantly, they have decided to make the best of the arrival of our paisanos, including around 100 Venezuelan doctors in the national health response team against COVID-19.
Right now, Brazil is home to around 253,495 Venezuelans. Of those, approximately 123,507 have been regularized. Brazil comes second after Peru with the highest number of asylum seekers (129,988), and has the highest rate of recognition as refugees (37,467 people). It’s important to mention that Brazil decided to use the 1984 Cartagena Declaration as a juridical instrument to recognize them as refugees. This came as a result of the Brazilian National Committee for Refugees’ decision to recognize all applicants as refugees on a prima facie basis.
Brazil continues to provide protection for our fellow Venezuelans. They have been establishing shelters for the treatment and isolation of possible and confirmed cases of COVID-19, with medical treatment, protection and triage services. Additionally, they have made exceptions for mobility restrictions during the pandemic, to cross-border humanitarian actions previously authorized by the health authorities. Finally, they’ve created technical committees to monitor the compliance with human rights, especially the particular reality of displaced populations who are also ethnic minorities, minors, women, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations.
Ecuador has a total of 363,023 Venezuelans, of which around 179,878 have regular status. The country has received 29,078 asylum applications from Venezuelans, and there are 374 recognized refugees. To guarantee protection to these displaced Venezuelans during the pandemic, Ecuador has established shelters, especially for those who are homeless, they have extended the period of regularization, and administrative procedures have also been suspended during the declaration of the health emergency.
The Trail Ahead
Venezuelans will continue to leave the country in search for a better life. As a durable solution to the dire situations these displaced Venezuelans face, it’s key to continue encouraging the application of the expanded definition of refugees, as established in the 1984 Cartagena Declaration. Ideally, governments could also consider collective protection responses, including the possibility of making the recognition of the refugee status prima facie as Brazil has done, which implies recognizing them as a group, rather than going case by case.
As we commemorate World Refugee Day, when every action counts, let the plight of thousands of Venezuelans be the inspiration to keep working, to continue advocating for their situation and that of our paisanos inside the country.
To continue the search for durable solutions.
* Opinions are personal. They do not represent those of the Organization of American States.
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