LETTER: Magnitude of humanitarian crisis being experienced by Venezuelans needs to be recognised

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Dear Editor,

Guyanese organizations (listed below) are calling on Governments and civil societies of Caricom to recognise the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis currently being experienced by the people of Venezuela.

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.

The humanitarian crisis is characterized by a shortage of medicines and food, the collapse of public services, the world’s highest inflation rate, overt violence, and serious human rights’ violations. The political institutions of the State are in crisis, and allegations of torture and illegal detention are widespread.

The effects of the economic chaos are reflected in the mounting numbers of refugees threatening to overwhelm welfare and health systems in border regions of countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Panama, with a potential for similar effects in neighbouring Caricom territories.

A particularly worrying dimension of the Venezuelan crisis for Caricom territories was pointed out in June 2017 by UWI Professor of Sustainable Development, Dr. Anthony Clayton, quoted in the Jamaica Gleaner to the effect that, “The problem we are facing is, because with Venezuela’s economic collapse, there is now evidence of weapons flooding out of Venezuela, initially into Trinidad, but which will come percolating through the Caribbean. Venezuela has got more guns per person than almost any other country in the (western) hemisphere, including the United States.”

He went on to point out that former President Chavez armed militias all over the country to combat the threat of invasion, and “now, with the economy collapsing, a lot of them are selling their weapons, and they are selling them for groceries, pharmaceuticals and basic survival items”.

Reluctance to ‘interfere’ in domestic politics has been a guiding principle of Caricom relations, with respect to both its own membership and its external relations. More to the point at the present time, however, is whether this posture of avoidance has discouraged Caricom Governments from developing or adopting reception policies through which to address a major influx of refugees.  Moreover, in view of the arms flooding out of Venezuela, will this tendency be fortified?

However, despite the security issues and the fact that Caricom territories’ capacity for delivering health and welfare services is limited, these factors do not absolve Caricom countries from the responsibility of developing just and fraternal reception policies, and respecting the fundamental rights of individual refugees.

Without some measure of preparedness of this nature, Venezuelan refugees are 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.

As civil and faith-based organizations, 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.

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.

A principled and rights-oriented humanitarian response of this nature is consistent with Caricom’s inclination to avoid becoming embroiled in Venezuelan domestic politics. Additionally, such an approach to the humanitarian crisis 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.

ENDORSING ORGANIZATIONS,

Anglican Diocese of Guyana

Rt. Rev Bishop Francis Alleyne RC Bishop of Guyana

BENAB – (Youth)

Church Women United

East Coast Clean-Up Committees

Guyana Society for the Blind (GSB)

Guyana Environment Initiative (GEI)

Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA)

Guyanese Organization of Indigenous peoples (GOIP)

Jesuits in Guyana

Policy Forum Guyana

Red Thread

Rights of Children (ROC)

Transparency Institute Guyana Inc

Ursuline Sisters in Guyana

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