Amid the growing exodus of Venezuelans, the United Nations for the first time is asking the region to treat the population as “refugees” who are unable to go home — rather than mere economic migrants.
In a three-page report, the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, also recommends that countries that have received Venezuelans not deport, expel or forcibly return them “in view of the current situation in Venezuela.”
In the document, titled “Guidance Note on the Outflow of Venezuelans,” the agency asks countries to guarantee Venezuelans residency and the right to work, even if they entered the country illegally or don’t have the proper identification papers.
The guidelines would seem to be a rebuke to neighboring Colombia, which has increasingly been deporting Venezuelans and restricting their entry.
Last month, Colombian immigration began requiring new Venezuelan arrivals to present passports — although that document has become difficult, if not impossible, for most people to obtain. New Venezuelan arrivals in Colombia have also been barred from getting work permits except under exceptional cases.
Those measures, Colombian authorities say, have decreased the number of Venezuelans entering the country on a daily basis by 30 percent.
The UNHCR guidelines, which were released this month come as more than 1 million Venezuelans have left the country amid a deep economic crisis, hyperinflation and food shortages.
More than 600,000 Venezuelans are thought to have entered Colombia in recent years, but Peru, Chile, Brazil and Argentina have also seen waves of arrivals.
Traditionally, groups who cross international borders due to lack of food and water, or for economic reasons, are not legally recognized as refugees. But UNHCR suggested that view needs to change when it comes to Venezuelans.
“While individual circumstances and reasons for these movements vary, international protection considerations have become apparent for a very significant portion of Venezuelans,” the agency found.
Jim Wyss: @jimwyss