As Venezuelan exodus swells, migrants face Colombian backlash - Taipei Times
Wed, May 16, 2018 - Page 9 News List

As Venezuelan exodus swells, migrants face Colombian backlash

The UN says the reasons Venezuelans are migrating fall within the spirit of the 1984 Cartagena Declaration, which defines refugees as those fleeing violence, hunger and poverty resulting from a breakdown in the rule of law

By Christine Armario and Manuel Rueda  /  AP, CUCUTA, Colombia

Colombia’s new removal tactic is not without precedent.

Each year thousands in the US who are arrested and face the prospect of deportation instead opt to return in what is known there as a “voluntary departure,” University of California Davis School of Law dean Kevin Johnson said.

“In a lot of countries you see programs and policies like what is apparently going on in Colombia because there is a fear of mass migration,” he said.

Johnson added that whether the practice is legal would hinge on whether any Venezuelans being returned are refugees fearing persecution.

“There usually should be some avenue for people who fear prosecution to apply for relief and be able to resist pressures to depart voluntarily,” he said.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has issued guidance to regional governments explaining that many of the migrants likely qualify for international protection and telling officials that Venezuelans should not be deported or forcibly returned.

Though many are not fleeing targeted political persecution, the UN said that the circumstances leading Venezuelans to migrate fall within the spirit of the 1984 Cartagena Declaration signed by several Latin American nations.

The non-binding agreement embraces a broader definition of refugees to include people fleeing violence, hunger and poverty resulting from the breakdown in the rule of law.

The UN has not commented specifically on Colombia’s removals.

The removals come as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro moves to tighten his hold on power, barring his biggest challengers from the presidential election on Sunday.

Meanwhile, hyperinflation has devastated the value of Venezuela’s monthly minimum wage, which now is barely enough to purchase one carton of eggs.

“This is a refugee crisis,” said Francine Howard, a Venezuelan activist in Colombia. “They are fleeing Venezuela like people fleeing a war.”

Colombian officials have been careful to avoid using the word “refugee,” a designation that would also imply devoting greater resources at a time when the nation is also trying to push forward a historic peace process.

Still, rights groups and exile organizations have praised Colombia for treating tens of thousands of sick migrants in hospitals, creating a path toward legalization for some migrants, and providing others with food and shelter.

Other nations are also sending back Venezuelan migrants as their numbers continue to swell, though not necessarily by “voluntary return.”

Trinidad and Tobago recently deported 82 Venezuelans, more than a third of whom had applied for asylum.

The UN condemned the move as a breach of international refugee law.

In northern Brazil, a governor has also asked the nation’s top court to allow her to close her state’s border with Venezuela.

On a recent afternoon in Colombia, a group of 17 officers in green uniforms gathered under a scorching sun as they patrolled the streets of Cucuta.

They stopped one young man caught washing windshields at a busy intersection. Another man was boarded onto the truck after being spotted selling popsicles.

“I left the country to survive,” said Jorge Mireles, a father of three, explaining that in Venezuela he had no means of feeding his children.

Colmenares, who had been caught the week before Mireles, said that he panicked as the police truck with wood-paneled sidings and a black tarp roof approached the border with Venezuela.

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