María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about information indicating that many Venezuelans have been forced to migrate to other countries in the region as a means of survival, due to the humanitarian situation—particularly the effects of shortages of food, medicine, and medical treatment. Given the lack of legal, regular, and safe migration channels, many people have had no choice other than to turn to clandestine, irregular migration over perilous land and sea routes. The IACHR calls on the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) to take steps to strengthen mechanisms of shared responsibility regarding the situation of Venezuelan migrants, and urges them to refrain from adopting measures that restrict or violate the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers from Venezuela.
Along these lines, the IACHR expresses its concern about actions carried out in Brazil on December 9, 2016, with the aim of deporting approximately 450 Venezuelan migrants in irregular immigration status from Boa Vista, in the Brazilian state of Roraima, near the border with Venezuela. Most of the migrants were Warao indigenous people and included men and women, as well as more than 180 children, including newborns.
According to publicly available information, in the early morning hours of December 9, an immigration control operation was carried out at a public market called the Feira do Passarão, in the city of Boa Vista, for the purpose of detecting, detaining, and expelling undocumented Venezuelan migrants in Brazil. As a result of this operation, around 450 Venezuelan migrants, most of them Warao indigenous people, were placed in immigration detention to await deportation.
While they were being held, these indigenous people were not allowed to explain their individual and collective circumstances or establish contact with members of religious and other civil society organizations that wanted to provide them with advice and legal assistance. That same day, the Venezuelan migrants were put on buses to be transported to the city of Santa Elena de Uarién, on the Brazil-Venezuela border, to be turned over to Venezuelan immigration authorities.
In response to these events, Brazil’s Office of the Federal Public Defender (DPU) filed a writ of habeas corpus and requested a precautionary measure to stop the collective expulsion of the Venezuelan migrants on grounds that such a step would violate the Constitution of Brazil and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Federal Court issued a writ granting the precautionary measure and ordering that the group of Venezuelans be ensured the right to remain in the country until a final decision is issued through an administrative proceeding in which due process is guaranteed. On December 10, 2016, the deportation of the Venezuelan migrants was halted. The Commission underscores the importance of the steps undertaken by the Office of the Federal Public Defender and the Federal Court’s decision as exemplary measures to safeguard the human rights of the Venezuelan migrants.
The IACHR reminds the Brazilian State that, pursuant to its international human rights obligations, it has a duty to implement all measures that may be necessary to protect the life, integrity, and safety of all migrants under its jurisdiction. The effective guarantee of the right to life requires the State to adopt special measures of prevention, protection, and assistance when it has knowledge of situations involving people who are migrants or in need of international protection who are in transit or along international borders and are in danger. These measures should address the special needs of migrants or those in need of international protection related to age, gender, or any other factor that can make them vulnerable, such as the fact of being an indigenous person. The State’s assistance should be provided without discrimination and in a culturally appropriate manner to all migrants or those in need of international protection in large migration movements, including medical care, adequate food and water, blankets, clothing, sanitary items, and opportunity to rest. The State also has the obligation to establish measures to respond to the special needs of children who are migrants or in need of international protection. The State should also adopt any necessary measures to ensure that racial profiling is not used in immigration control operations.
The Commission notes that on December 6, 2016, Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies approved a bill, Law 2.516/15, to establish a new Immigration Law. The Commission urges the Brazilian State to ensure that the law is approved and that it is in line with a human rights approach and incorporates international and inter-American human rights norms and standards.
In that regard, the Commission reminds the States in the region that immigration detention should be an exceptional measure used as a last resort and always for the shortest amount of time possible, once an individual evaluation of each case has been made and alternative measures considered. Moreover, States may not resort to the immigration detention of children and their parents as a precautionary measure in immigration proceedings or proceedings to determine refugee status.
The IACHR also calls to mind that, under international norms and standards, States have an obligation to identify those among the migrants who need special protection—such as asylum seekers and refugees, those in need of subsidiary protection, and victims of human trafficking, among others—and to adopt measures to protect them. States should also adopt measures to guarantee the rights to due process and to judicial protection in the context of immigration proceedings and proceedings to determine refugee status, the right to family unity, the right to seek and receive asylum, the principle of non-refoulement, and the prohibition against the collective expulsion of aliens. Immigration proceedings, particularly those that could lead to migrants’ deportation, must examine, justify, and decide cases on an individual basis and respect minimum guarantees, such as the right to be heard by a competent authority in a deportation proceeding and to have sufficient opportunity to exercise the right to mount a defense; the right to have interpretation and translation assistance; the right to legal representation; the right to consular protection; the right to receive notice of a deportation order; access to an effective remedy to challenge a deportation order; the right to challenge a deportation decision; and the right to have a deportation order suspended while an appeal is pending.
According to publicly available information, the migration of Venezuelan citizens to States in the region has been increasing exponentially in recent years. In this regard, the Commission is extremely concerned to observe the exponential increase in the number of asylum seekers from Venezuela. According to figures from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 505 asylum seekers from Venezuela at year-end 2012; 1,153 in 2013; 4,820 in 2014; and 15,094 at year-end 2015. This means that between 2012 and 2015, the number of Venezuelans seeking recognition of refugee status abroad increased by 2,889 percent.
In terms of the increase in the migration of Venezuelans to other countries in the region, in the context of shared responsibility, the Commission urges the States of the region to adopt measures to provide humanitarian treatment and an international protection response to people coming from Venezuela, through the protection of refugees; consider means of complementary protection, in accordance with Article 22(8) of the American Convention; apply humanitarian visa schemes; apply schemes to provide temporary protection for humanitarian reasons; and implement other regularization alternatives based on national and regional immigration laws.
The Commission also expresses its concern regarding Venezuela’s decision to close its borders. Venezuela decreed the closure of its border with Brazil on December 14, 2016. This comes on top of the already existing closure of the border with Colombia, since August 2015. In that regard, the IACHR urges Venezuela to revoke any measures that could stand in the way of everyone’s right to leave Venezuelan territory, as well as the right to seek and receive asylum and to seek and receive complementary protection or other protection responses.
A principal, autonomous body of the OAS, the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.