BY: SHEVONNE E. HOSEIN-BENITEZ
With the onset of the largest humanitarian crisis seen in Latin America, neighboring Caribbean countries are looking on as their fears are being brought to life by the massive influx of Venezuelan emigrants washing up on their shores. Numbers have increased dramatically over the last six months in Curacao, Aruba, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname.
The initial outflow of Venezuelan emigrants has flooded the borders of neighboring countries Colombia and Brazil with a staggering 600,000 and more, a 600% increase from 2017 and 93,000 registered and more than 800 arriving at the borders everyday respectively. While these countries are working with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to absorb and tend to the needs of these migrants, the impact on deteriorating healthcare systems and inefficient public services have sunk into failure, unable to meet the demands of the existing public and now face increased pressures from the emigrants. As Venezuelans have realized the difficulty to get into their neighboring countries over the last two years, they have started to exhaust their means by traveling to neighboring Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.
Trinidad and Tobago have seen a 200% increase in Venezuelans with 40,000 from 2017; Curacao has documented 5,000, Aruba 20,000, and Barbados documented 12,000 calling their numbers generous. Dominican Republic documented 35,000 while Guyana and Suriname have not published any numbers of documented or illegally attained Venezuelans. Guyana and Suriname have neither a refugee policy nor a contingency plan to deal with the issue. They are also not members of the UNHCR and therefore have not ratified the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees. As such, they are dealing with the issue on their own with limited resources at their disposal. Guyana has dispatched an increased number of immigration officers along their 500-mile border, Suriname has placed a request before their parliament to increase immigration police officers at main port entries, and at hospitals and clinics; their reports have shown Venezuelans are seeking healthcare for outbreaks in treatable diseases, such as malaria and measles at these locations. The situation may stress the already strained relationship with Guyana and Venezuela over borders. Suriname has sided with Guyana and has promised support should political tensions result in armed conflict.
The remaining CARICOM countries and observers are working with UNHCR to assist the situation; however, it has been unsuccessful. Caribbean countries still fall under the umbrella of developing countries and continue to struggle to meet the needs of their population. Their universal healthcare systems lack funding and standard grade facilities to accommodate the needs of their citizens, much less to incorporate these numbers coming in. Their education systems, housing projects and other public assistance programs are largely underfunded, stagnated and have not met the needs of their population thus far. Economies have been slowed and are not producing the economic growth required for revenue and income generation to support developmental needs. With oil prices being low, Trinidad and Tobago, the wealthiest of the Caribbean islands, are running low on their foreign reserves and is running on a trade deficit. Barbados economic outlook is also in the slumps. Grenada, having been set back 15 years after hurricane Ivan destroyed the island, is also in economic distress. None of these countries have the facilities, funding or capacity to deal with a refugee crisis and integrate Venezuelans into their populations. As such, we’ve seen some forced deportations happening in Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada. The UNHCR has spoken against this and has raised this as an issue, holding the Republic responsible for these acts on a global forum.
Unfortunately, this cannot be compared to the Syrian refugee crisis, as countries that were able to grant asylum were wealthy western European countries that had the systems, funding and integration mechanisms in place to accommodate them. The outlook on this crisis spreading to CARICOM members appears to be a lose-lose situation and will only become more difficult as pressures build within the politics and civil society of these countries.
While the Venezuelan government has good business ties with some CARICOM members (being an observer to CARCOM, never attaining membership) the emigration issue has strained their relationships, as CARICOM countries are now faced with maintaining the diplomacy of their relations with the Venezuelan government versus their handling of Venezuelan emigrants. With US sanctions in place, there has been no movement towards regime change but rather the creation of a major human rights crisis.
Shevonne Elizabeth Hosein-Benitez works in Global Banking and Financial Markets, with a Master of Science in Global Affairs. She has done extensive field work in economic policy within the developing world (Latin America and The Caribbean).
Photo Credit: George Castellanos/AFP/Getty Images
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