As Venezuelans flee throughout Latin America, UNHCR issues new protection guidance
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Aikaterini Kitidi – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
In light of the continuing outflow of Venezuelans to neighbouring countries and beyond, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has released new guidance for governments to address the situation of persons in need of international protection and humanitarian assistance.
As a result of the complex political and socio-economic developments in Venezuela, a country that has traditionally been host to thousands of refugees, the number of people compelled to leave their homes continues to increase. The movements are taking place for a variety of reasons, including insecurity and violence, lack of food, medicine or access to essential social services as well as loss of income. While not all Venezuelans leaving are prompted to do so for refugee-related reasons, it is becoming increasingly clear that, while all may not be refugees, a significant number are in need of international protection.
There has been a 2,000% increase in the number of Venezuelan nationals seeking asylum worldwide since 2014, principally in the Americas during the last year. Although over 94,000 Venezuelans have been able to access refugee procedures in other countries in 2017, many more of those in need of protection opt for other legal stay arrangements, that may be faster to obtain and provide the right to work, access to health and education. Yet, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans remain without any documentation or permission to stay legally in asylum countries. This makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking, violence, sexual abuse, discrimination and xenophobia.
Within this context, UNHCR’s guidance note encourages States to ensure Venezuelans have access to territory and refugee procedures. In addition, UNHCR welcomes and calls on governments to adopt pragmatic protection-oriented responses for the Venezuelan people, such as alternative legal stay arrangements, including visas or temporary residence permits, as well as other regularization programmes, which guarantee access to the basic rights of health care, education, family unity, freedom of movement, shelter and the right to work. UNHCR applauds countries in Latin America that have introduced such arrangements, and hopes that costs and requirements are eased, where necessary to ensure accessibility.
In view of the situation in Venezuela, it is crucial that people are not deported or forcibly returned there.
Latin America has some of the world’s most progressive refugee arrangements such as the Cartagena Declaration of 1984, which is built on the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and embodies a wider refugee definition. UNHCR considers that the broad circumstances leading to the outflow of Venezuelan nationals would fall within the spirit of the Cartagena Declaration. While Governments in the region have been generous in their response, host communities receiving Venezuelans have come under increased strain and urgently need immediate and robust support, to promote peaceful coexistence and prevent manifestations of discrimination and xenophobia.
UNHCR is working with Governments to address the protection and basic needs of the outflow. Consequently, UNHCR has developed a regional response plan that covers 8 countries and the Caribbean sub-region. In particular, UNHCR seeks to strengthen national asylum and other international protection processes and step up its activities to foster a comprehensive, predictable and harmonized response to the plight of Venezuelans.
UNHCR will work towards these objectives, and in particular access to protection, in cooperation with all levels of government, other stakeholders, including other UN Agencies, most notably IOM, international organizations, civil society and the private sector, as well as facilitate the participation of Venezuelans and host communities. UNHCR’s initial financial requirements for the implementation of the regional response for the Venezuela Situation amount to USD46 million.
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