(CMC) Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries are being urged to re-consider treating Venezuelan nationals fleeing the political situation in their country as illegal immigrants and instead recognise the scale of the humanitarian crisis in that South American country.
In a statement released by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) on behalf of several religious and civil society groups, CARICOM countries are being urged to provide for those fleeing Venezuela, where opposition forces are seeking to topple the government of President Nicolas Maduro, with legal protection and register them on arrival.
“A collaborative approach to governance encompassing relevant civic, business and Government agencies might begin by ensuring registration of Venezuelan refugees arriving at our borders, thereby both providing them with legal protection and discouraging illegal entry through porous borders and beaches,” said the group.
They said that the registration of Venezuelan refugees, “would also strengthen the possibility of more orderly reintegration of the refugees into their own country when circumstances permit a safe and minimally decent life”.
CARICOM leaders, at their last summit, held in Grenada last month, issued a statement reaffirming their guiding principles of adherence to the rule of law, respect for human rights and democracy, as well as for the fundamental principles of non-intervention and non-interference in the internal affairs of states.
But they noted that they were concerned about the “difficult political, economic and social situation in Venezuela, in particular, the increase in violence and polarisation between the Government and the Opposition, and its effect on the people of Venezuela”.
As a result, the regional leaders “called for all parties to commit to engage in renewed dialogue and negotiation, leading to a comprehensive political agreement, with established time tables, concrete actions and guarantees to ensure its implementation for the well-being of the nation”.
“In this regard, CARICOM Heads of Government offered their good offices to facilitate this dialogue,” the communiqué said, noting that they had also mandated Mitchell “to communicate with the parties concerned in Venezuela about this offer”.
On July 30, Venezuela staged an election to choose a 545-member constituent assembly, with the power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions.
The polls were boycotted by the opposition and criticised by many western countries, but Maduro said the assembly would help bring peace to the country, where more than 100 people have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded since the street protest began in April.
In their statement, the groups here said that a “principled and rights-oriented humanitarian response” would be in keeping with the CARICOM desire to “avoid becoming embroiled in Venezuelan domestic politics.”
They said that if their recommendation is not accepted, Venezuelan refugees would continue to be “vulnerable to the kind of treatment experienced by the isolated cases of Angolan, Haitian, Cuban and other refugees who have found their way to our shores.
“The default response has been to treat them as illegal immigrants often detained for months on end,” they said noting that “CARICOM countries are already beginning to feel the effects of the tens of thousands of refugees seeking asylum in neighbouring Latin American countries as a result of the severe economic disintegration and political instability fuelling that crisis”.
Earlier this month, former St Kitts-Nevis prime minister Dr Denzil Douglas urged CARICOM not to support a statement by United States President Donald Trump of a possible military solution to the crisis in Venezuela.
Despite the security issues and the fact that CARICOM’s capacity for delivering health and welfare services are limited, the organisations said those factors do not absolve regional countries from the responsibility of developing just and fraternal reception policies and of respecting the fundamental rights of individual refugees.
“As civil and faith-based organisations our responsibility to engage with the humanitarian dimensions of the Venezuelan crisis is no less real than that of Governments. For this reason in a spirit of solidarity and social justice and in collaboration with relevant international agencies, we commit to engaging with the challenge of promoting the protection of the fundamental rights of Venezuelan refugees,” they said.