Human Rights Watch calls for coordinated regional response to Venezuela migration crisis

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  1. Regional governments might start taking harder line against Venezuelan migrants and refugees
  2. HRW recommends creating a region-wide temporary protection program to give Venezuelans legal status
  3. UNHCR: "A significant number of Venezuelans in host countries are in need of international refugee protection"
  4. Top Venezuelan officials deny the country is undergoing a humanitarian crisis

Governments in the Americas should join forces to devise a coordinated response to the Venezuelan exodus that “has generated the largest migration crisis of its kind in recent Latin American history,” according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published on August 3.

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Regional governments, once welcoming, are being strained by the growing influx, according to the United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR). Peru and Ecuador recently tried to change the entry requirements for Venezuelans. Brazil sent soldiers to its northern border to “guarantee law and order” after Venezuelan migrant camps were attacked by locals.

The report coincides with the start of a regional summit where governments met (Bloomberg) to coordinate a response to the challenges posed by mass Venezuelan emigration. The Organization of American States (OAS) will meet for another Venezuela-focused meeting on September 5.

HRW’s publication highlights some of the main challenges that fleeing Venezuelans face, and praises the region’s response so far but warns against growing regional discontent against Venezuelans, and gave recommendations on how to deal with the inflow of migrants and refugees from the crisis-hit country.

Among its main recommendations are: creating a region-wide temporary protection program to give Venezuelans legal status; a regional mechanism to share responsibilities and costs associated with the mass emigration; and adopting and enforcing targeted sanctions against top Venezuelan officials involved in human rights abuses.

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“While many governments have made exceptional efforts to welcome fleeing Venezuelans, the growing scale of the crisis requires a uniform, collective response,” said HRW Americas director José Miguel Vivanco. “Governments should adopt a consistent response to ensure people forced to flee Venezuela get the protection they need to start anew.”

President Nicolás Maduro has repeatedly said Venezuela is the victim of U.S.-backed “economic warfare.” Top Venezuelan officials deny that the country is undergoing a humanitarian crisis.

People ‘sell their fridge to buy a ticket to the border’

Tamara Taraciuk, HRW’s senior Americas researcher and author of the report, told WikiTribune that the flow of Venezuelans will “definitely increase” if the situation there remains the same.

“When you go to the border and you talk to the Venezuelans fleeing, you see people that are desperate,” she said. “They sell their fridge or their cellphones to buy a bus ticket to the border and they don’t really know what they’re going to do afterwards.”

She added: “Despite that level of desperation and the very difficult conditions in which they live, they’re still better off outside Venezuela than in Venezuela.”

The United Nations estimates that as of June 2018 some 2.3 million Venezuelans – from a total of 32.8 million – are living abroad because of severe shortages of basic goods including food, basic medicines, and medical supplies.

Eighty-seven percent of Venezuelan households were living under the poverty line in 2017 compared to 48 percent in 2014, according to the National Survey on Living Conditions (in Spanish), a yearly study conducted by three major Venezuelan universities. Last year, 61 percent of Venezuelan households were living in extreme poverty.

Formerly eradicated diseases like measles (Miami Herald), malaria (New York Times), tuberculosis (New York Times) and diphtheria have made a sudden and aggressive comeback.

HRW’s report also says Venezuelans are fleeing due to spiraling rates of violent crime, hyperinflation, and a “ruthless government crackdown” which has led to thousands of arbitrary detentions and human rights violations.

Read more Venezuela coverage on WikiTribune: “Detained, disappeared, and tortured — for tweeting — in Venezuela“; “Venezuelans fleeing home turn to Argentina for employment and stability”; “Soccer save: How karma (or coincidence) kicked in to rescue a struggling immigrant.”

Where are Venezuelans heading?

Ninety percent of the 1.6 million Venezuelans who’ve left the country since 2015 are heading to other South American countries, according to the International Organization for Migration. From 2014 to 2018, the number of Venezuelan asylum-seekers reached almost 300,000, according to the UNHCR. Another 586,000 Venezuelans are being granted other forms of legal stay. This means that over a million Venezuelans are in an irregular legal situation – they can’t get work visas or access basic public services. HRW also warns these people are more vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking, and abuse.

According to the report, the countries hosting the largest number of Venezuelans are: Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, the United States, Panama, Brazil, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dominican Republic.

“Venezuela opened its doors to people fleeing South America’s dictatorships and internal conflicts in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” said Vivanco. “Its neighbors now have the opportunity and responsibility to do the same for the Venezuelan people, and governments meeting in Quito this week to discuss the Venezuelan exodus should stand up to the task.”

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