Forced migration implies the rupture of one’s natural, physical, familiar and personal environments: “To be forced to leave Venezuela is like being forced to divorce a person that you love and do not want to leave,” says Maryorie, who worked at a government institution in Venezuela. During the 2017 elections, she was required to renounce from her position after she failed to show proof that she voted in favor of the officials approved by her bosses. Without a job and in the midst of a political, economic, and social crisis, she was forced to migrate to Colombia, leaving behind the country that witnessed her birth, her friendships, her loved ones, and without knowing if her hug goodbye to her parents would be the last.
“You can´t have friends here; you hear a lot of stories of people trafficking Venezuelans. But I know what it is to be a migrant, woman, and afro-descendant, and my voice will one day transform the world,” thought Maryorie in a bus terminal in Bogotá, where she ended up sleeping after falling victim to a series of xenophobic and racist aggressions. These finally culminated in a violent gender-based attack that ended with her assailant strangling her.
“While we dream of a free Venezuela, we want to contribute to Colombia. We came to add on to our new home and not to subtract,” comments Maryorie, who, after more than one year in Colombia, has not been able to find a consistent and formal source of employment, despite being a beneficiary of the Special Stay Permit (Permiso Especial de Permanencia or PEP). This measure, implemented by the Colombian Government, provides Venezuelan citizens that fufill various requirements with a document that allows them to stay in the country. “They don’t accept it in any employment,” says Maryorie, as she holds a laminated copy of the PEP that she processed online and printed herself.
Her story is one of many. The political, economic, social, and human rights crisis that Venezuela faces continues to generate high numbers of people leaving its borders. The urgency to respond with a human rights approach to the arrival of Venezuelans once they enter receiving countries across the continent, remains equally or more pressing. According to estimates from UNHCR, more than 4 million people have left Venezuela, with the majority remaining in South America. The agency calculates that by the end of 2019, that number could rise to 5 million.
It is undeniable that a number of States across the Americas have developed efforts in order to address this situation, such as the creation of migratory regularization mechanisms. Nevertheless, these responses are still insufficient.
For example, beginning with the risks of statelessness and violations to the right to nationality of children born to Venezuelan parents in Colombia, there continues to be a generalized impossibility to satisfy the human rights of thousands of Venezuelan people throughout the continent. These rights include being able to access to decent employment, essential medical services, access to justice and the right to seek and receive asylum. Discrimination, xenophobia, and the imposition of requirements to enter territories that are either difficult or impossible to fulfill for Venezuelan people are consistent issues across countries. Requirements such as the presentation of an apostilled judicial past, a valid passport, and a requirement to apply for a visa from Venezuela, also remain as constant situations of concern throughout the hemisphere.
Additionally, the migrants and refugees that arrive from Venezuela are not a homogeneous group. Rather, they require differentiated responses and attention that address the specific necessities of the different population groups. In addition to the historic vulnerabilities that have accompanied migrants, many have been targets of other forms of systemic discrimination both in their country of origin, as well as in transit and destination. These include people such as women, older adults, children and adolescents, the LGBTI+ population, ethnic and racial minority groups, people with disabilities, among others. In the case of Maryorie, her condition as an afro-descendant woman places her in a situation of intersectional discrimination.
Facing this situation, there is a push for the recognition of the highest standards of international protection for refugees, including group-based protection arrangements from civil society and other groups. States have the obligation of allowing people to enter their territory to ask for asylum and to be recognized as refugees, assuring due process of law guarantees. The aspiration is that those who flee from instability to another context will be able to make their dreams to contribute to their new environments and build strong homes a reality.
Written by: Jessica Ramirez, Legal Fellow at the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)