Guyana Chronicle:– THE Ministry of Citizenship and the relevant immigration agencies are reportedly working on a plan to aid destitute Venezuelans affected by severe economic hardships in their country, and seeking refuge here.
Several nations bordering, or in close proximity to, the Bolivarian State have reported thousands of Venezuelans crossing into their countries seeking refuge.
Minister of Citizenship Winston Felix said Guyana is no exception, as Venezuelans continue to come here almost on a daily basis, some legally and others illegally. Felix indicated that Guyana is seeking to take a more accommodating approach to the situation.
“Usually when you enter a country illegally, you are prosecuted,” he said, “but we are trying to turn away from prosecution, given the special circumstances. We are trying to chart a course away from prosecution, and one that is not too costly.”
Border communities with Venezuela had reported to local authorities that scores of Venezuelans were crossing into Guyana seeking food, medical attention and even trading opportunities.
Village leaders in those communities had requested from the Guyana Government additional supplies to accommodate the influx of Venezuelans, as regular materials being delivered could no longer sustain them and their foreign neighbours.
Minister Felix told the Guyana Chronicle that the authorities are looking at some type of protocol that would enable the government to handle the Venezuelan situation amicably, whether they enter the country legally or otherwise.
He said that in some cases where Venezuelans may have family members and friends here, their being able to stay with them is one option.
Another scenario, he said, is that there are Venezuelans entering the country illegally and finding themselves in hotels across the country. But the danger in that, he said, is the possibility of human trafficking which can happen easily, especially where persons enter the country unknowingly to officials. They could be trafficked without even realising it, he said.
And while no Venezuelan has sought asylum from the Guyana Government, Minister Felix said what has been happening is that persons are coming here legally and then reporting to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees’ (UNHCR) extended office here for refugee status.
He said that this being the case, Guyana is now signing on to the UNHCR and other charters regarding the specific issue of refugees.
He, however, noted that no final position has been reached on the Venezuelans, since it is still being drafted; but the government’s intention is to help them as much as it possibly can.
He said the course of action that will be taken will be carried over to all the relevant agencies that will be engaging with Venezuelan citizens.
The socio-economic crisis in Venezuela has seen massive exoduses out of the Bolivarian state. The International Organisation for Migration has reported that an estimated 1.6 million Venezuelans left the country in 2017, up from 700,000 in 2015, with an estimated 1.3 million seeking refuge in the Americas, including the Caribbean.
Both Colombia and Brazil have tightened their borders, owing to the influx of “hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants” seeking healthcare, food and mainly jobs to send money back to their families.
Trinidad and Tobago has become more vocal about the influx of Venezuelans in the twin-island nation, while other Caribbean countries, among them St. Lucia, have expressed concern over the Venezuelan migration.
“We are only six hours away by a fast boat from Venezuela, so we’re very vulnerable,” St. Lucian Prime Minister Allen Chastanet was quoted as telling the island’s media.