Alexander Betts, Professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs, writes today for IRIN News that “How we treat Venezuelans in exile will shape the future trajectory of their country and the wider region.”
In his article Why Venezuelan migrants need to be regarded as refugees he describes Colombia’s response to the influx of over 1 million Venezuelans. Recognizing that displaced Venezuelans can contribute economically, it is “allowing Venezuelans who regularise their migration status to work and access public services” and “trying to adapt its public employment service to support integration”.
However, he says, because Venezuelans are being labelled as ‘migrants’ rather than ‘refugees’, this is shaping the international governance response and the degree of engagement by UNHCR and others.
He draws parallels between the Venezuelan crisis and the Zimbabwean exodus of the early 2000s, arguing that: “Legally, it is incontrovertible that most Venezuelans fit the 1984 Cartagena Declaration definition of a refugee; they are clearly fleeing ‘massive violations of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order’. But, as with Zimbabweans in the early 2000s, there are strong interests in not invoking the ‘refugee’ label.”
A consequence of “being at the margins of global refugee governance”, he says, “is that host countries are not receiving the support and guidance that befits the world’s biggest current displacement crisis.”
But whether Venezuelans are labelled survival migrants or refugees, “the most relevant policy responses can still be derived from historical response to refugees,” he argues, citing examples from the region.