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12 August 2020 – Venezuela

Venezuelan Migrants Stuck at the Colombian Border, (Stefano Pozzebon,
Venezuelan Migrants Stuck at the Colombian Border, (Stefano Pozzebon, "Venezuelan Migrants Fleeing Covid-19 Get Stuck at Border," CNN, accessed on 10 August 2020,

During the four-year period 2016-2019, more than 4.6 million men, women, and children fled or otherwise departed Venezuela because of burgeoning political and economic crises. According to the UNHCR, some 4,000 and 5,000 Venezuelan nationals were leaving the country every day, mainly travelling on foot to neighbouring countries like Colombia, Peru, or Ecuador; thousands of others have made their way to the United States or Europe.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has spurred new migration trends as thousands of Venezuelans have sought to return home as economic opportunities in their host countries have dried up. This has led to new human rights challenges across much of the region and overseas–including increasing vulnerability to detention and other enforcement actions–which have been severely complicated by Covid-19 border closures and travel restrictions, as well as growing regional political tensions.

A report from the Center for Migration Studies (CMS), titled “The Struggles of Stranded, Returning and Newly Departing Venezuelans During the Global Pandemic,” underscores the international scope of the struggles Venezuelans now face. According to this report, written by the Venezuelan journalist Silvina Acosta, while Venezuela has enabled foreign governments to arrange repatriation flights of their citizens out of Venezuela, the Maduro government has stymied the return of its own citizens, leaving “thousands of Venezuelan migrants and tourists stranded in other countries and subject to COVID-19 quarantines.”

In this special Covid-19 update, the GDP summarizes key developments in various neighboring Latin American countries:

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO. As part of their response to Covid-19, the government of Trinidad and Tobago implemented a series of confinement measures as well as financial and economic measures. However, most Venezuelan migrants and refugees in the country–who numbered approximately 40,000 by 2018–do not benefit from these measures and are only entitled to primary health care (see 9 May Trinidad and Tobago update on this platform). Instead, officials in the country, which began a concerted crackdown on Venezuelas long before the Covid crisis began, have used the crisis to increase pressure on these people. Citing the restrictive policies pushed by U.S. President Donald Trump, the country’s national security minister said in July that Trinidad and Tobago needs to ramp up deportations and to “operate in the same manner as the United States.” In a press conference on 25 July, the minister claimed that “illegal immigrants,” “boat people,” and those that “trafficked them” present health risks and issued a hotline number for people to make reports. On 27 July, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service circulated fliers on Facebook stating that “illegal immigration” could cause a “new wave of Covid-19” and called people to report “suspicious activity.” On 28 July, 167 Venezuelan nationals were deported from Trinidad and Tobago after having completed a compulsory quarantine period, as requested by the Venezuelan government.

COLOMBIA. According to the August CMS story cited above, “The number of returning Venezuelan migrants has now reached 80,000 people, including 45,900 migrants between April and May, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Colombia Migration reports that ‘more than 90,000 Venezuelan migrants in Colombia have returned voluntarily to Venezuela since the beginning of the quarantine declared in Colombia in March.’ Around 76 percent of the 90,000 returnees crossed the border through the main border cross point (the Simón Bolívar International Bridge), in the department of Norte de Santander (northeast). The majority of the 1,200 buses with Venezuelan returnees arrived at the Norte of Santander. Others went to the checkpoints in Arauca (east) and La Guajira (northeast).”

In June, Al Jazeera reported that some 500 Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, who had been left jobless and homeless during the pandemic, had built a makeshift camp in the outskirts of Bogota. Most were trying to return home, but the Venezuelan government had limited the number of returnees, causing bottlenecks along the route. The camp had no running water or electricity and people were surviving on the charity handouts (see 13 July Colombia update on this platform). Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro wildly called these Venezuelan citizens “biological weapons” and accused Colombia and other governments of infecting them with Covid-19 to spread the pandemic across Venezuela. Colombia strongly rejected these accusations, calling them deplorable. UNHCR reported that Venezuela had limited the entry of its own nationals through the Colombian border to 100 people per return day via the Arauca border crossing and 300 per return day in Cucuta. At the time, the humanitarian corridor to Venezuela was open three days a week.

PERU. Approximately 830,000 Venezuelans are currently residing in Peru and are particularly at risk from Covid-19 due to several factors, including inadequate access to health and social services as well as loss of employment (see 26 June Peru update on this platform). The World Bank reported, prior to the onset of the pandemic, that “negative attitudes toward the Venezuelan population are more prevalent in Peru than in other recipient countries, and they are likely to increase.”

ECUADOR. Anti-Venezuelan sentiment has also been growing in Ecuador, where at least 330,000 Venezuelans were residing at the end of 2016. As a result of the pandemic, many Venezuelan migrants have lost their employment and have attempted to return home. Despite the closed border, according to the Ecuadorian Red Cross, up to 700 are departing every day. According to the Health Ministry, as of 20 April, 22 Venezuelans in Ecuador had tested positive for the virus, but most believe this to be an under-estimate (see 20 May Ecuador update on this platform).

CHILE. In Chile, which hosts the third largest population of Venezuelans (roughly 450,000), some 4,000 Venezuelans have sought to return to their country. Many have been accommodated by the Chilean government in temporary hostels after weeks of waiting at the door of their embassy. A Venezuelan national died on 2 June while waiting for his test results (see 28 July Chile update on this platform).

PANAMA. According to Response for Venezuelans (R4V), as of February 2020, there were 94,600 Venezuelan migrants in Panama. Wendy Mow of HIAS (Hebrew and Immigrant Aid Society) said that it is likely that the number of Venezuelans in Panama is much higher: 150,000, owing to the large number who enter the country without documentation. R4V estimates that only about 75,000 Venezuelans in Panama have legal residency status. In June, Voice of America reported that at least 387 are requesting a repatriation flight to Venezuela. On 9 June, Reuters reported that Panama had confined some 200 migrants in a camp in the jungle in the Darién region to contain a new Covid-19 outbreak. As previously reported (see 9 June Panama update on this platform), many migrants have been left stranded in Panama at the borders with Colombia and Costa Rica, and while the GDP has been unable to confirm whether any Venezuelan nationals are among those stranded, it is likely that many are.

GUAYANA. Located immediately to the east of Venezuela, with which it shares a lengthy border, Guyana has been an important destination for people fleeing the country. In 2019, the International Crisis Group reported that there were more than 36,000 Venezuelan nationals in Guyana. The aid group Response for Venezuelans (R4V) reports that the Government of Guyana maintained a commendable open door policy to Venezuelans, and introduced a digitalised system for biometric registration and documentation of new arrivals. According to a May 2020 report by R4V, by the end of March, the Government of Guyana had conducted biometric registration and documentation for 2,090 refugees and migrants from Venezuela. Temporary accommodation and emergency shelter were also provided to 34 highly vulnerable people, including 32 Venezuelan migrants.

Prior to border closures brought on by Covid-19, Immigration Officers issued a “Household Registration Certificate” to Venezuelan nationals upon entry to the country, which includes a provision against forced return and a renewable three-month stay permit. Nevertheless, the pandemic has increased the vulnerability of Venezuelans in the country, especially with respect to health and economic opportunities. They face a lack of access to formal employment and livelihood opportunities as well as language barriers (English is the official language of Guyana), hindering their access to basic services such as health care and education. Many Venezuelans have reportedly begun seeking to return to their country as the crisis continues.

PARAGUAY. According to UNHCR, there are some 3,588 displaced Venezuelans currently living in the country (see 10 July Paraguay update on this platform). It is unclear to what extent these people face restrictions or other pressures as a result of their status or because of the Covid-19 crisis. However, UNHCR reports that it has continued to provide basic services to this population.