Since the mass movement of people fleeing the crisis in Venezuela intensified in 2017, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have grappled with ways to meet the needs
of this growing population. Countries like Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador, which host the largest numbers of Venezuelans, have put in place temporary residence schemes that allow beneficiaries to remain in the country legally and access employment. In displacement crises, the quality of services and assistance typically varies from one host country to another, but the fate of Venezuelans seeking refuge on the small island of Curaçao, only 40 miles from the coast of Venezuela, could very well be the worst in the Americas.
No data are available on the number of Venezuelans in an irregular situation currently in Curaçao, but according to estimates received by Refugees International, it could be as
high as 10,000 to 13,000. Not only has the government of Curaçao failed to put in place a protection scheme for this population, it has enforced an “active removal strategy” by arresting, detaining, and deporting Venezuelans with irregular status. Curaçao is part of the Kingdom
of the Netherlands, and as such is bound by several international human rights treaties and conventions, including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). For Venezuelans in Curaçao, however, these rights are inaccessible.
A Refugees International team visited Curaçao in February 2019 to research the conditions of Venezuelans living there. The team interviewed Venezuelans living in an irregular situation, members of the Venezuelan diaspora with legal status on the island, and representatives of civil society organizations and UN agencies. They described a dire situation in which no real opportunities exist for Venezuelans who seek to obtain international protection or other forms of legal stay, thus forcing them into irregularity.
Because of their irregular status and the government’s policy of detaining and deporting people back to Venezuela, Venezuelans described to the team a life of hiding behind closed doors,
in constant fear of the authorities. Because they cannot access the formal labor market, their only option is to work in the informal sector, where they are vulnerable to exploitation and have no legal protection or remedies against abusive employers. For women who face abuse at the hands of partners or ex-partners, there is nowhere to turn for protection.
In February 2019, at Curaçao’s request, the government of the Netherlands announced it would provide assistance to Curaçao in facing the influx of refugees and migrants from Venezuela. This development provides an opportunity for the government of Curaçao to make changes that should include a system for granting Venezuelans access to legal status, including the right to work, and an immediate end to the policy of detaining and deporting Venezuelans because of their immigration status.
The government of Curaçao should also address reports of sexual exploitation of women from Venezuela and provide protection and remedies for victims. It should also tackle reports of xenophobia and discrimination against its refugee and migrant population through an information and education campaign.
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