03 December 2020
In March, Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou moved to impose a series of COVID-related restrictions, including closing non-essential shops and closing its border with Brazil. The moves--which notably did not include lock-down--came after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Montevideo on 13 March 2020. As of 30 November 2020, Uruguay had reported less than 6,000 COVID cases and 76 deaths related to the disease. Neighbouring Argentina also reacted swiftly but with stricter compulsory lockdown measures (see 3 April Argentina update on this platform); nevertheless, it has experienced dramatically more cases (approximately 1.4 million as of this writing).
In June, Uruguayan authorities expressed concern over the arrival of a large number of Cubans, some of whom sought to enter the country as refugees. According to Diario de Cuba, the Cuban nationals arrived in Uruguay through the Rivera department on the border with Brazil, where they expressed their intention to apply for asylum.
As of June 2020, Uruguay hosted 13,742 asylum seekers and 498 refugees under UNHCR’s mandate as well as 14,236 Venezuelans “displaced abroad.” According to the UNHCR, it employs the phrase Venezuelans “displaced abroad” to refer to people of Venezuelan origin who are likely to be in need of international protection under the criteria contained in the Cartagena Declaration, but who have not applied for asylum in the country in which they are present. As part of its COVID-19 response, UNHCR reports that it has provided humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants suffering from the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic. UNHCR has provided accommodation, food, clothing, and cash assistance in major urban centres and border areas.
Uruguayan legislation does not provide for the detention of people in an irregular migratory situation. Like Argentina’s immigration legislation, Article 1 of Uruguay’s Migration Act, No. 18250 (Ley de Migraciones, N°18250), along with its Regulatory Decree n°394/009 of 2009, recognise the inalienable right of migrants and their relatives to migrate irrespective of their migration status. Furthermore, Article 9 provides that an irregular immigration status does not preclude a person from having access to justice and health care and that authorities must provide information on regularisation avenues. The legislation (Article 51) also provides for expulsion proceedings in certain situations. As per Article 52, where a person has entered irregularly or stayed in the country following the expiration of their permit, the Uruguayan immigration authority (Dirección Nacional de Migración), taking into account the specific circumstances of the case, is to advise the person that they must regularise their immigration status within a certain period of time in order to avoid expulsion. In its concluding observations in 2014, the Committee on Migrant Workers noted “with particular interest that the Act recognises: … (c) That no case involving a migrant in an irregular situation for administrative reasons warrants detention.”
In the country’s prisons, a sanitary protocol was put in place on 16 March whereby detainees presenting any symptoms are placed in quarantine. Hygienic products and sodium hypochlorite were distributed to the prisoners and the protocol envisages the fumigation of communal spaces and vehicles used for the transfer of detainees. On 13 April, 13 prisoners suffering from COVID-19 symptoms were tested. 8 tested negative and the rest were placed in isolation awaiting results.
- L. Taylor, “Uruguay is Winning Against COVID-19. This is How,” British Medical Journal, 18 September 2020, https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3575
- Diario de Cuba, “Pese a la Pandemia del COVID, una Avalancha de Emigrantes Cubanos Llega a Uruguay,” 23 June 2020, https://diariodecuba.com/cuba/1592938146_23340.html
- UNHCR, “Uruguay: El ACNUR en el Sur de América Latina,” accessed on 30 November 2020, https://www.acnur.org/uruguay.html
- United Nations News, “Uruguay: La COVID-19 No Puede Detener la Cooperacion Internacional ni la Financiacion al Desarollo,” https://news.un.org/es/story/2020/09/1480982
- Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, “Concluding Observations on the Initial Report of Uruguay,” CMW/C/URY/CO/1, 2 May 2014, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CMW%2fC%2fURY%2fCO%2f1&Lang=en
- A Kit Used to Check for Antibodies in People with COVID-19, in Uruguay, 50,000 kits Were Developed, (Imago Images, Agencia EFE, "Uruguay Wages Successful Fight Against COVID-19," DW, 22 August 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/uruguay-wages-successful-fight-against-covid-19/a-54659839)