Venezuela recognises its first refugees
CARACAS, Venezuela, Feb. 10 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has welcomed Venezuela's recognition of the first 47 refugees to pass through a newly established asylum application process, hailing it as a historic step towards international refugee protection.
UNHCR Regional Representative Maria Virginia Trimarco said the new process demonstrates Venezuela's commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention.
UNHCR on Monday received official notification of the development from the National Refugee Commission. As outlined in the Venezuelan Refugee and Asylum Law, the 47 Colombian nationals will be presented with formal identification documents recognizing their right to live, work and study in Venezuela.
Established in July 2003, the National Refugee Commission is the first such institution in Venezuela. In addition to reviewing individual asylum applications and determining refugee status, the commission oversees the government's efforts to provide protection and assistance to those seeking asylum.
For victims of the Colombian conflict, the granting of refugee status is important because it opens up the possibility of rebuilding their lives in Venezuela.
"I left Colombia in 2000 and have been waiting for over three years to receive refugee status," said one of the newly recognized refugees. "Now I'm beginning to revive my hope for the future."
That sentiment was shared by Trimarco.
"The commission's decision is crucial because it legalizes their status and enables them to exercise their basic rights in dignity," she said. "Venezuela has entered a new and important phase in its refugee policy and we are fully supporting them in this endeavour."
The commission is an important step towards addressing the previously invisible plight of Colombians in need of protection in Venezuela. Currently, a total of 2,338 people have requested refugee status in Venezuela. But as many as 15,000 are believed to be in need of protection. Tens of thousands of victims of the Colombian conflict have also requested refugee status in the neighbouring countries of Ecuador, Costa Rica, Peru and Panama, and many thousands more have sought asylum in the United States, Canada and Europe.
In addition to providing the National Refugee Commission with continuing technical assistance, training and expertise, UNHCR is carrying out a Refugee Registration Project in Venezuela. UNHCR also supports the communities that host refugees, mainly in the border zones of Venezuela, through projects to improve education and health facilities and to generate income in the communities.