Addressing the Venezuelan Refugee Crisis: Part II

Photo Credit: UNICEF Ecuador

By Aanvi Jhaveri
Staff Writer

Converging crises in Venezuela have forced residents to abandon their homes to seek safety and security. Part I of this series explored the complex history that has led to the current plight of refugees and asylum-seekers. Understanding the causes behind the humanitarian crisis today enables a comprehensive analysis of programs and policies enacted in response to the arrival of migrants. Part II will critically examine these approaches and analyze potential long-term recommendations for neighboring countries and Venezuela. 

Migrant influxes from Venezuela have prompted policy responses by neighboring nations’ governments. There are protections for the human rights of migrants through various instruments like the 1951 Refugee Convention, Cartagena Declaration of 1984, and the 1994 San José Declaration. These, along with other instruments, demonstrate the commitment of states to secure the rights and freedoms of migrants and refugees. However, in practice, Venezuelan migrants are not being afforded the rights that are articulated in these declarations. Peru has attempted to establish a policy that addresses the needs of Venezuelans fleeing from humanitarian crises. They created a temporary work/study permit program, Permiso Temporal de Permanencia (PTP), that allows Venezuelans to reside legally in Peru for one year. PTP provides a means to enter Peru legally, thus reducing the need to resort to dangerous and illicit smuggling that places the individual at greater risk of trafficking and other violence. This program has been commended for its protection of migrants and normalization of migration by international bodies. The Migration Peru and Special Commission for Refugees reported that more than 359,888 Venezuelans had entered Peru through the PTP program as of November 2018.

Photo Credit: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

Despite this apparent progress, there are consequences to the program that have hindered the overall goal of safe migration for Venezuelan refugees. There is anecdotal evidence that Peruvian migration officials have been directing people to apply for PTP with the intention of dissuading them from applying for asylum. Asylum gives migrants the opportunity to have more stable, secure, and long-term protection, and yet, people are being discouraged and explicitly denied the right to apply for it. The PTP program is being used as an alternative to asylum despite the vast difference in the types of protection offered by each. PTP does not guarantee migrants any fundamental rights or freedoms, it merely offers them the ability to legally reside for one year in Peru. Thus, though it may help alleviate a degree of migratory strain in the short term, it is not a long-term panacea that should be advocated for in lieu of asylum. PTP is ultimately inadequate in providing long-term protection for those fleeing persecution, conflict, and economic crisis. Despite this, it still constitutes an attempt by the Peruvian government to address and alleviate hardships faced by Venezuelans. 

On the other hand, Ecuador has responded to the influx of Venezuelan migrants in a different way. The Ecuadorian government has seemingly responded with intentional inaction regarding migrants seeking refuge in their country. There is no direct intervention over the physical bodies of Venezuelan migrants by Ecuador. Instead of deportation or forced separation, Ecuador uses existing instruments to strategically move people out of the country, usually without the use of force. The Ecuadorian government has generally refrained from traditional detention and deportation practices, but has still proven capable of regulating its population. Ecuador has limited resources and state services, and thus a substantial population increase of Venezuelan migrants would have consequences for the state. As a result of this seeming inability to accept refugees, the government has indirectly been guiding them out by issuing fines and voluntary-exit slips, which give migrants the opportunity to ‘voluntarily’ leave before being deported.

Photo Credit: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

As a result, many migrants end up leaving without the state having to resort to active deportation. Through these mechanisms, the Ecuadorian government is able to refrain from direct and forceful intervention, but still send people away to more dangerous circumstances. Furthermore, the state has opted to ignore the issue outright by claiming that Venezuelans are merely seeking to pass through Ecuador, not reside permanently. In this way, they are able to neglect Venezuelans who have valid asylum claims. Venezuelans explained that they left Ecuador because they felt the state was “indifferent to their struggles,” in addition to the complex legal requirements and steps that prevent them from obtaining legal status. Ultimately, this method of neglect and inaction has harmed Venezuelan migrants and inhibited their access to safe refuge. When states undertake policies to circumvent the systemic issues driving migrant crises and opt for politically expedient answers that only serve to redirect the consequences rather than repair them, individuals and families already navigating a treacherous plight endure unnecessary and untold hardship and violence.

Rather than a neglectful and shortsighted approach to addressing migrant needs, such as the recent Ecuadorian model, the international community should coordinate more practical and holistic interventions to assist Venezuelan refugees. A long-term, global solution needs to be prioritized in order to effectively address the needs of Venezuelan migrants as well as the concerns of neighboring countries that bear a significant asylum burden. A broadly applicable policy that promotes the integration of migrants into various host countries’ labor markets would both allow migrants to settle safely without fear of violence or deportation, while also fostering economic stimulation and growth. 

The central obstacle to safe migration is the ideology of the host state. Most states are concerned about a surge of migrants seeking entry as this would likely strain the economy and hinder the ability to provide services to its citizens. This perspective is especially prevalent among Latin American countries that are economically dependent on foreign aid. This concern often breeds hostile approaches and attitudes towards migrants which lowers their ability to receive long-term residence. This exacerbates irregular migration as individuals and families are constantly forced to move, effectively becoming stateless. To solve this, solutions must involve greater assistance from international organizations.

Increased funding from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) should be allocated to neighboring countries that have been receiving a majority of migrants so that they are properly equipped to manage the population increase. Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and other Latin American countries have borne the brunt of this crisis and require support to effectively address it. There are various programs and initiatives that this funding should be directed towards. Ecuador, in particular, would benefit from the development of the following programs, as would Colombia and Peru indirectly. 

Photo Credit: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

With funding provided by the IOM, Ecuador could allow migrants to enter with extended work permits while asylum applications are processed. This would allow asylum seekers from Venezuela to reside safely without fear of violence, while also contributing to the nation’s economy. Similar to the program in Peru, this would allow migrants to work but it would be for a longer period of time, thus addressing the principal criticism of the Peruvian program. In addition, this type of open policy would allow states the opportunity to receive additional money in foreign aid that could also contribute to the economy. Both Jordan and Turkey, for example, have been able to use their acceptance of Syrian refugees to negotiate payoffs with international institutions and donor countries. This aid, in combination with funding provided by the IOM, can potentially offset the resource burden created under these circumstances. In this way, Venezuelan migrants would be provided with safe residence and the ability to participate in the labor market while Ecuador would benefit from increased funding and a stimulated economy. This would also redistribute the paths of vulnerable Venezuelan migrants, lowering the burden on Ecuador and Peru which have accepted hundreds of thousands of migrants. 

Furthermore, other migrant-receiving nations have enacted programs that provide migrants with access to the labor market. This can be used as a model for Ecuador to develop similar programs that allow access to job training and education for newly arrived Venezuelan migrants. A report from the Migration Policy Institute explains that host nations that have created and implemented training and education pathways have had better success integrating migrants into the labor market. In addition, a simplified asylum application and processing system would allow for quicker integration and returns. Ultimately, a comprehensive program that allows migrants to reside and work in host countries would not only benefit Ecuador’s economy but would also foster safety and stability for the migrant population, potentially facilitating greater cultural acceptance and reducing threats and violence.

Photo Credit: Diariocritico de Venezuela

A potential issue with this approach may be the length of time required for full and comprehensive development and implementation. As the compounding crises worsen, desperation and incentive to flee Venezuela grows. Thus, swift action must be taken by Ecuador and other countries to incorporate the IOM into solution-minded forums. This type of policy plan will help Venezuelans see Ecuador as a viable, safe option when considering regional resettlement. As a result, fewer Venezuelans will ultimately suffer in unsafe and violent circumstances.

It has become clear that the Venezuelan refugee crisis requires international intervention if it is to be effectively and equitably resolved. Increased IOM funding to Ecuador and its neighboring states would provide the means to coordinate and develop programs to alleviate the strains of excessive migrant and refugee flows. Specifically, Ecuador can use this funding to fully integrate Venezuelan migrants into the labor market. In doing this, Venezuelan migrants, Ecuador, and other Latin American countries would benefit.

Institutional apathy and inaction by the Ecuadorian government have deflected migrants to other countries, placing them in unsafe and violent situations and leaving Colombia and Peru to deal with an unsustainable influx of migrants. By creating a sustainable and comprehensive plan in Ecuador, migrants would be able to find safety, while Ecuador’s economy would benefit from increased funding and aid, as well as participation from Venezuelan asylum-seekers and refugees at all levels of the economy. Ultimately, urgent action is required to address the suffering of Venezuelan migrants and put an end to both their plight and the systemic problems which engender it.  

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