Press Release

The IACHR Again Calls on States to Guarantee Human Rights of People Returning to Venezuela during the COVID-19 Pandemic

December 22, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - As part of the work of the Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit for the COVID-19 pandemic crisis (SACROI COVID-19), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) once again calls on States to guarantee the human rights of Venezuelans who return to their country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through its different mechanisms, the IACHR has monitored with concern the situation of thousands of Venezuelans who have been forced to leave their transit and host countries in recent months to return to Venezuela as a result of the direct and indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (link in Spanish), as of June 2020, approximately 50,000 people had returned to Venezuela since the start of the pandemic. According to estimates from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) (link in Spanish), a total of 331,332 irregular Venezuelan migrants in Colombia could return to their country at the end of 2020.

The IACHR has observed that the attitudes, discourse, and public policies of some governments in the region may have affected the material conditions enabling these people to consent freely when deciding on their return. In this sense, the exclusion of the Venezuelan population from the economic, social, and health-related assistance that these countries provided their nationals has been a major factor influencing their decision to return, as have forced evictions. Furthermore, some governments have used the pandemic to publicly urge the migrant population to return to their country or to make stigmatizing and xenophobic speeches.

In this sense, the IACHR recalls the Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Trafficking, and reiterates that all migrants have the right to return voluntarily to their State of origin or which they are nationals of. States must ensure that these return processes are voluntary and provide lasting, sustainable solutions for safe return, especially for unaccompanied children.

The IACHR also warned that according to public information, border closures and other responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have posed obstacles to the Venezuelan population and jeopardized their rights during these return journeys. In this regard, the IACHR reiterates its concern over the number of Venezuelans who have been stranded in various countries in the region and reiterates the recommendation in its press release of May 16, 2020, on the need for States to invest in cooperation, exchange information, and provide logistical support.

The IACHR wishes to draw attention to the Colombian–Venezuelan border, where returns have been particularly hampered by the restrictions imposed by Venezuela. These restrictions entailed reductions in the number of Venezuelans received each day through humanitarian corridors by only opening the José Antonio Páez and Simón Bolívar International Bridges to them three days a week. Likewise, Venezuela limited the number of nationals allowed to enter the country via the former bridge to 100 per day and 300 via the latter. These restrictions allegedly forced thousands of Venezuelans to camp out near the Simón Bolívar bridge without access to public bathrooms and drinking water and in circumstances in which social distancing and self-care measures were impossible.

In this regard, the IACHR recalls the provisions of Resolution No. 01/20, “Pandemics and Human Rights in the Americas,” and recommends that States ensure that voluntary return processes are implemented through cooperation, the exchange of information, and logistical support between States, taking care to implement appropriate health and safety protocols and guaranteeing the principle of respect for the principle of family unity.

The IACHR is also concerned about the situation of returning Venezuelans who must comply with quarantine and isolation measures at Comprehensive Social Service Points (PASIs) in Venezuela. According to public sources, these shelters are overcrowded, do not have a constant supply of drinking water or quality food, lack sufficient beds, and do not comply with health and hygiene standards. Furthermore, Venezuelans have allegedly suffered ill-treatment by authorities at these centers.

Likewise, the IACHR has condemned the stigmatizing discourse against returnees that state authorities have expressed via social media and in the press. It is also concerned by the broadcasting of official messages that threaten people returning to the country via illegal entry points with prison sentences. The IACHR rejects discriminatory and threatening expressions of this type: they aggravate the situation of Venezuelan returnees and ignore their human right to return to their country of origin or nationality.

The IACHR also notes that actions to respond to and mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic must not result in discrimination against migrants based on their nationality, migration status, or socio-economic situation. In this regard, the IACHR recommends that States implement measures to prevent and combat xenophobia and the stigmatization of people in movement during the pandemic.

Finally, the IACHR reiterates that all people are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection without discrimination on any grounds, including migrant status. Consequently, the IACHR urges States to include people in movement in their economic recovery policies and any other initiatives that arise at any point in response to the crisis triggered by the pandemic.

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. 309/20