By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – In light of the continuing crisis in Venezuela, the United Nations has asked the region to treat the population as “refugees” who are unable to go home, as opposed to mere economic migrants. Meanwhile, Colombia is calling out for urgent help along its border because of the humanitarian “catastrophe.”

Venezuelan citizens cross the border into Colombia. Image Courtesy of Fernando Vergara.

The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, released a three-page report with new guidance for governments to address the situation of persons in need of international protection and humanitarian assistance. It is titled “Guidance Note on the Outflow of Venezuelans.” The report recommends that countries do not deport, expel or forcibly return Venezuelans in view of the current situation. Also, it asks countries to guarantee refugees residency and the right to work, even if they are residing in the country illegally or without proper identification papers.

The increase of migrants has exploded in the past few years. Since 2014, there has been a 2,000% increase in the number of Venezuelan nationals seeking asylum. While 94,000 have been able to access refugee procedures in 2017, many more have not. Most seek legal arrangements that will help them get the right to work and access to health and education as quickly as possible. Still, hundreds of thousands reside illegally in asylum countries. This has resulted in high levels of exploitation, trafficking, violence, sexual abuse, discrimination, and xenophobia.

In response to these startling numbers, UNHCR encourages states to provide Venezuelans with access to refugee procedures. It calls on governments to adopt pragmatic protection-oriented responses, including alternative stay arrangements and temporary visas. Additionally, it calls for other programs that will supply basic needs of health, education, family unity, freedom of movement, and shelter. UNHCR stresses the importance of people not being deported or forcibly returned to Venezuela.

These guidelines seem to reproach Colombia’s current methods. As an overwhelmed neighbor, Colombia has been deporting and barring Venezuelans. Last month, Colombian immigration began requiring new Venezuelan arrivals to present passports even though they have become extremely difficult for people to obtain. These methods have decreased the number of Venezuelans entering the country on a daily basis by 30%.

However, more than 600,000 Venezuelans have already entered Colombia in the past couple of years. Border towns, like Cucuta, are struggling to maintain their homes. Officials have encouraged foreign aid to be sent to Colombia since it is hosting the bulk of the migrants. Organizations such as the World Food Program are present in Colombia helping to deal with the crisis.

The director of the World Food Program, David Beasley, said “Colombia has made so much progress in the past many years with peace and the last thing it needs now is for all that success to be undone. So I will be expressing to other nations the severity of this crisis and why they must come to help the Colombian people immediately.”

Currently, UNHCR is working with governments to address the basic needs of the crisis. It developed a regional response plan that covers eight countries and the Caribbean sub-region. Specifically, the goal is to strengthen national asylum and other international protection processes to foster an effective response to this crisis.

For more information, please see:

IRIN – As Colombia tightens its border, more Venezuelan migrants brave clandestine routes – 13 March 2018

TRT World – UN says refugee claims by Venezuelans surging – 13 March 2018

UNHCR – As Venezuelans flee throughout Latin America, UNHCR issues new protection guidance – 13 March 2018

Miami Herald – As Venezuelans flee collapsing country, UN asks other nations to treat them as refugees – 12 March 2018

ABC News – UN official warns of humanitarian “catastrophe” in Venezuela – 12 March 2018

Author: Emily Green