Situation of Venezuelans who have returned and are trying to return to their country in the context of COVID-19

Date published
09 Sep 2020
Research, reports and studies
COVID-19, Forced displacement and migration, Human Rights
Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)
Organization of American States (OAS)

The General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) today presents the report "Situation of Venezuelans who have returned and seek to return to their country in the context of COVID-19." The report, prepared by the Office of the OAS General Secretariat for the Venezuelan migrant and refugee crisis, analyzes the way in which the difficulties faced by this group have increased significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures adopted by the States of the region to address it. 

The absence of a democratic system in Venezuela, systematic human rights violations, food shortages, precarious health systems, an electricity crisis, generalized violence and economic collapse are some of the causes that have forced more than 5.1 million Venezuelans to flee their country since 2015. 

Since March, due to the pandemic, the sources of income of this population have been substantially affected, due in part to the fact that a majority of those in this group work in the informal sector. This has led to thousands of Venezuelan migrant and refugee families being evicted, leaving them homeless, and thousands of Venezuelans have returned to their country. 

Several countries in the region responded quickly to this crisis and coordinated efforts to guarantee the return of Venezuelan migrants and refugees to their country. Such is the case of Colombia and Brazil, which have set up humanitarian corridors at the border crossings. To date, there have been approximately 105,000 returns from Colombia and 6,000 from Brazil, according to official figures. However, the intermittent and arbitrary closure of the Colombian-Venezuelan border and the criminalization of the returned migrants by the illegitimate regime, as well as the inhuman treatment they suffer upon their return have aggravated the situation of vulnerability of the persons who have returned and those who hope to return to their country. 

The report indicates that the illegitimate government of Nicolás Maduro has deployed multiple actions to stigmatize, discriminate, and criminalize returnees, violating the right to honor and recognition of human dignity. Venezuelans who have sought to return to their country of origin have been classified as "bioterrorists" and "biological weapons" by Nicolás Maduro and other authorities. 

Additionally, returnees have been subjected to inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment. A testimony collected during the preparation of the report indicates: “One reaches the Colombian border and then we go to the passenger terminal, where we spent 6 days lying on the ground, eating the little that we carried with us, because in the canteen where food was bought they only accepted dollars, no cards. They also gave us only one meal a day, then one would go to a shelter and then take the health exams that they were going to do, in the end we arrived in Barquisimeto, the whole journey lasted almost a month.” 

“The actions and statements of the illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro clearly violate the principles of international law and the human rights enshrined in them. The actions of the authorities undermine the dignity of the Venezuelan persons who have decided to return to their country, exposing, once again, their dictatorial, illegitimate and criminal character, which feeds on oppression, manipulation and instigation to hatred," said David Smolansky, Commissioner of the Secretary General of the OAS for the Crisis of Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees. 

Based on the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights and Resolution 01/2020 of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the report of the General Secretariat of the OAS urges: 

That discrimination, stigmatization, and criminalization of returned Venezuelans cease, guaranteeing their free entry into Venezuelan territory and their free movement within the national territory;

That all administrative acts that have been issued in violation of the Constitution, international treaties and the human rights guaranteed therein be declared invalid;

That all public officials who have ordered and executed said acts be subjected to investigation for crimes against humanity;

That the victims of these human rights violations be compensated and inclusion policies be established to reverse the damage caused by the criminal acts of the Nicolás Maduro regime;

That the international community help to make visible the situation in which the stranded Venezuelans find themselves and to condemn the unconstitutional and illegal response of the illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro;

That the international community unite to help explore different humanitarian avenues for the protection of Venezuelans who are trying to exercise the right to return to their country.