Treat fleeing Venezuelans as refugees, UN urges
High commission says the majority of those leaving the country are in need of international protection
Geneva — Venezuelans fleeing political and economic crisis at home deserve protection as refugees, the UN said on Tuesday, urging other states not to deport them.
About 3.7-million people have left Venezuela, including 3-million since 2015, as the economy has imploded, causing widespread shortages and hunger, and antigovernment street protests have brought waves of violence and deaths.
Venezuelans continue to leave at the rate of 3,000-5,000 per day, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said, giving updated guidance on how to handle the exodus.
“UNHCR … now considers that the majority of those fleeing the country are in need of international refugee protection,” agency spokesperson Liz Throssell told a news briefing.
“It is incredibly important given the situation in Venezuela that there aren’t deportations, expulsions or forced returns.”
UNHCR noted that there had been some deportations from Caribbean islands, including by Trinidad and Tobago in 2018.
Only 460,000 Venezuelans had sought formal asylum as of the end of 2018, mainly in Peru, the US, Brazil and Spain, while others have legal stay arrangements in countries including Colombia, Chile and Ecuador, it said.
The UN Children’s Fund said deteriorating conditions in Venezuela had left vulnerable children with limited access to health, education, protection and nutrition services.
The agency has provided nearly 190,000 children with access to nutrition programmes but cannot do all it wants to in Venezuela, spokesperson Christophe Boulierac said.
Dozens of nations around the world now recognise opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, saying President Nicolas Maduro rigged a 2018 election and is behaving like a dictator. But Guaido has been unable to remove Maduro, who still has the backing of the top military brass.