Press Release

IACHR Calls on States to Protect the Rights of Venezuelans Who Return to their Country During the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 16, 2020

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Washington, D.C. – Through its Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit on the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on States to protect the rights of Venezuelans who have voluntarily returned or who wish to return to Venezuela in the context of this pandemic.

Through its different mechanisms, the IACHR has been informed of the dramatic situation faced by thousands of Venezuelans around the Americas whose lives have been profoundly affected by the pandemic. This has led many of them to opt for a return to Venezuela by land, in precarious conditions that make them even more vulnerable. This situation disproportionately affects specific social groups—such as migrants who are women, children and adolescents, and older adults—who are further exposed to the risk of violence and exploitation along their migration routes.

The Commission observes that some countries in the Americas have put up discriminatory barriers to prevent Venezuelans from accessing financial aid and other benefits granted to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, which include unemployment and homelessness. The Commission is also concerned about the fact that some local governments are reportedly using the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to publicly and repeatedly urge Venezuelans to return to their country of origin, which may affect these individuals’ free consent when making the decision to return and may also exacerbate xenophobia against them.

The IACHR has been informed that, during the journey back to Venezuela, these individuals find obstacles that worsen their plight and increase their risk of infection with COVID-19. For example, temporary closures of regular border crossings between Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia force Venezuelans to gather by the side of the relevant roads or in overcrowded improvised shelters. It also leads migrants to look for irregular routes, known as trochas, where they face attacks or forced recruitment into illegal armed groups.

The Commission has further received information about how individuals who manage to cross regular border checkpoints between Colombia and Venezuela reach unhygienic shelters in the Venezuelan states of Táchira, Apure, and Zulia where they need to comply with the isolation and quarantine measures in place. According to civil society organizations active in the area, these shelters—usually in schools and other educational facilities—are overcrowded and do not provide sufficient food or permanent access to drinking water.

The IACHR has also been able to verify through publicly available reports that high officials of the Venezuelan government have made stigmatizing comments about individuals who return to Venezuela in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Certain officials have reportedly said that these returns are caused by “karma” and that returning migrants are “camouflaged fascists and coup supporters” and therefore deserve no assistance. The IACHR strongly rejects these discriminatory messages, which further worsen the delicate situation of returned migrants, as well as creating a hostile environment for the protection of human rights in Venezuela.

The IACHR stresses its Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Human Trafficking. The Commission notes that all people—whatever their migration status—have the right to return to a State whose citizenship they hold. States must ensure that returns are voluntary, and they must promote lasting, sustainable solutions to enable a safe return for migrants, particularly unaccompanied children. In this context, the Commission welcomes certain measures adopted by some States and local governments to assist transit for individuals who voluntarily wish to return to Venezuela. For example, the IACHR has been informed that the Mayor’s Office in Cali, Colombia, has provided buses for Venezuelans coming in from Ecuador to be able to get to Cúcuta in a single 20-hour trip. Similarly, the Commission has been told that Migración Colombia, an institution charged with migration control in the country, has provided 290 buses to enable the safe return of at least 12,000 Venezuelans to the border between the two countries.

The IACHR acknowledges the importance and complexity of the exceptional measures adopted by States in the Americas in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including restrictions of human mobility. However, the Commission stresses that restrictions on movement must be strictly proportionate to pursue the legitimate goal of protecting life and health, and that the context of the pandemic must not be used to weaken or reduce the various forms of international protection granted by countries, such as refugees status, asylum, and subsidiary protection.

The Commission further stresses that the COVID-19 pandemic must not trigger any form of discrimination against Venezuelans based on their nationality, migrant status, or socioeconomic situation. Indeed, given the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, the situation of Venezuelan migrants must be considered a forced displacement and deserves the highest levels of protection. Finally, the IACHR refers readers to its Resolution 01/20, Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas, where it recommended that States protect—through cooperation, the exchange of information, and logistical support between the States involved, in compliance with the applicable health protocols, and ensuring respect for family unity—individuals’ right to return to their States or territories of origin or to the States of which they are citizens.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 112/20