Migrants' return to Venezuela becomes a nightmare

Migrants who have been forced to return to Venezuela because of the COVID-19 crisis risk human rights abuses as the government fails to respond to the crisis. Español Português

Rafael Uzcátegui
20 April 2020, 12.01am
Venezuelans waiting at the northern transport terminal in Bogota, Colombia, on April 12, 2020 for the bus that takes them to the city of Arauca to return to their country, Venezuela
Daniel Garzon Herazo/NurPhoto/PA Images

Carmen Díaz (not her real name for security reasons), was one of the many Venezuelan women who crossed the border to work in another country in order to send money back to her family in Barquisimeto.

She had a job in a shoe store in Cúcuta, until Colombian authorities declared a state quarantine in response to the Coronavirus. Given the uncertainty and the fact that she was now living on her savings, she decided to return to Venezuela, with her baby. She paid for the trip to San Antonio del Táchira, where she underwent a medical check-up and was told that she had some symptoms.

She bought an overpriced bus ticket to the state of Lara, a trip that, due to the number of toll stops, lasted 17 hours, 5 more than usual. At a checkpoint near Barquisimeto, officials told them that they had to go to a Detention Centre for tests and to spend a few days in isolation.

The Centre, set up in the government-controlled village, was not run by medical personnel but by the Bolivarian National Guard. There was a total lack of even basic necessities, which led to friction between people and military officials. When they complained about the conditions they were forced to stay in during isolation, one of the Bolivian National Guard shouted: "Nobody told you to leave the country! Who the hell asked you to leave, damn it!” ? Carmin Diaz says she has been made to feel guilty about something, but she doesn’t quite understand what, ever since she has arrived at the Center.

According to the person who is, in theory, in charge of justice in the country, the mistreatment of Venezuelan migrants by local authorities goes much deeper than a simple failure to understand mobility across borders.

On April 14th, the Attorney General of the de facto government, Tarek William Saab, wrote on his twitter account: “Venezuelans who abandoned the Nation were abused in the USA, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Spain etc, and are now returning to Venezuela thanks to the ReturnHome Plan organised by President Nicolas Maduro”.

What Carmen Diaz has failed to understand is that, to Venezuelan officials, she is a traitor for having left the country. What offense was given by her decision to leave? It damaged the international reputation of the Venezuelan revolution.

Host countries have not taken all necessary and desirable protection measures to guarantee the human rights of Venezuelan migrants.

Much more than the protests of 2014 and 2017, or the allegations made by human rights organizations, it was the image of the migrants leaving Venezuela that challenged the international support for 21srt Century Socialism, with its epicenter in Caracas. from progressives around the world. The arrival of thousands of migrants from the most vulnerable areas of Venezuela to different Latin American cities, fleeing the Bolivarian ‘paradise’ and walking towards countries where they had nothing, in the most precarious conditions imaginable, destroyed the image that had cost Chavism so much to create. It was from that moment on that ears that had refused to listen to accusations of abuses finally began to hear.

Throughout, the official response was to deny that there was migration from Venezuela. Figures of the numbers of migrants were invented and the government went through the pretence of asked for international help.

In October 2017, precisely as more and more poor Venezuelans were crossing the border, the de facto government's Ombudsman, Alfredo Ruiz, said: "It is not true that Venezuela is a country of emigrants. Venezuela is still a country of immigration (...), the flow of people entering is greater than the people leaving".

To outdo himself, the former director of the Justice and Peace Support Network tried to suggest that the few who left were from the privileged classes, trivialising their reasons for leaving, claiming their reasons were frivolous: “if I can’t go to a club, or use my social networks to get a job, I lose all hope” ...”

Host countries have not taken all necessary and desirable protection measures to guarantee the human rights of Venezuelan migrants. While several of them condemned the Venezuelan dictatorship, in practice they began to restrict the migratory flow of those who were fleeing from it.

In an article published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Dany Bahar and Meagan Dooley state that the magnitude of the crisis has not had been matched by the financial resources needed in recipient countries need to address it: "In response to the Syrian crisis, for example, the international community mobilized vast sums of money: $7.4 billion in refugee response efforts in the first four years. Funding for the Venezuelan crisis has not kept pace: 4 years into the crisis, the international community has donated only $580 million. In per capita terms, this translates into $1,500 per Syrian refugee and $125 per Venezuelan refugee.

Finally, the situation of Venezuelan migrants has not been on the agenda of the opposition in the National Assembly, which is leading the efforts for a transition to democracy, since doing so would involve straining relations with those countries that recognize Juan Guaidó as President. Although Venezuelan aid associations have multiplied in number and NGOs are increasingly supporting them, those who have left Venezuela continue, in silence, to rely on their own luck.

The Venezuelan authorities have insisted that the spread of Covid-19 will be "controlled", but medical specialists think differently, and have expressed their concerns

In the document "Essential Guidelines for Integrating a Human Rights Perspective into the Management of the Pandemic by Covid-19" the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights establishes: "Border closure measures should be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner, in accordance with international law and prioritizing the protection of the most vulnerable. Policies and their implementation, including forced return and immigration detention, must be carried out in accordance with human rights obligations and may need to be adjusted to ensure that they are compatible with effective public health strategies and maintain adequate conditions".

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in "Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas", also establishes as part of the measures governments should take: "To refrain from implementing measures that may hinder, intimidate or discourage access by persons in situations of human mobility to programs, services and policies for response and care in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as migration control actions or repression in the vicinity of hospitals or shelters.”

The Venezuelan authorities have insisted that the spread of Covid-19 will be "controlled", but medical specialists think differently, and have expressed in private (due to fears about being detained if they contract official statements) concerns about the country entering the phase of community transmission, when the spread of the virus will go from lineal to exponential growth in the near future.

If this happens, will Nicolas Maduro blame the "stateless" and "traitorous" returnees for the increase in cases in the country? Would he invent a dark conspiracy in which people entered the country with the express aim of spreading the epidemic? It would be a terrible stigma for those who were forced to leave the country and, because of the circumstances, forced to return.

We’ve got a newsletter for everyone

Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a free openDemocracy newsletter for you.


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData