Bishop Francis Alleyne OSB of Georgetown along with 15 faith-based and civil groups in Guyana are calling on governments and civil societies of CARICOM to recognise the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis currently experienced by the people of Venezuela.
In a spirit of solidarity and social justice, the Guyanese organisations issued a joint statement titled ‘A principled response required from CARICOM countries to the Venezuelan refugee crisis’ August 22.
The full statement was published in the Catholic Standard, August 25 issue.
In it, the endorsing organisations said that the Venezuelan crisis is no less real than that of governments, adding that they are committed to engaging with the challenge of promoting the protection of the fundamental rights of Venezuelan refugees.
The statement said, “A principled and rights-oriented humanitarian response of this nature is consistent with CARICOM’s inclination to avoid becoming embroiled in Venezuelan domestic politics. Additionally such an approach to the humanitarian crisis would also strengthen the possibility of more orderly reintegration of the refugees into their own country when circumstances permit a safe and minimally decent life.”
Cognisant that CARICOM’s reluctance to ‘interfere’ in domestic politics has been a guiding principle of its relations, the civil and faith-based groups questioned whether this posture of avoidance has discouraged CARICOM governments from developing or adopting reception policies through which to address a major influx of refugees.
“Despite the security issues and the fact that CARICOM territories’ capacity for delivering health and welfare services are limited, these factors do not absolve CARICOM countries from the responsibility of developing just and fraternal reception polices and of respecting the fundamental rights of individual refugees.”
The effects of the economic chaos, the statement mentioned, is reflected in the mounting numbers of refugees which threaten to overwhelm welfare and health systems in the border regions of countries such as Colombia, Brazil and Panama with a potential for similar effects in neighbouring CARICOM territories.
A particularly worrying dimension of the Venezuelan crisis for CARICOM territories was pointed out in June 2017 by UWI Professor of Sustainable Development, Dr Anthony Clayton who said that because of Venezuela’s economic collapse, there is now evidence of weapons flooding out of the country, initially into Trinidad, which will come percolating through the Caribbean.
“Venezuela has got more guns per person than almost any other country in the western hemisphere, including the United States,” he said. Without some measure of preparedness of this nature, the statement said, Venezuelan refugees are vulnerable to the kind of treatment experienced by the isolated cases of Angolan, Haitian, Cuban and other refugees who have found their way to its shores.
The groups maintained that a collaborative approach to governance encompassing relevant civic, business and government agencies might begin by ensuring registration of Venezuelan refugees arriving at the borders, thereby both providing them with legal protection and discouraging illegal entry through porous borders and beaches.