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Venezuelan Migrants Face Covid-19 Risk in Aruba Detention Centers

Migrants Held for Months in Dangerous Conditions Amid Pandemic

A photo showing the outside of a Guarda Nos Costa (GNC) immigration detention center in Aruba. © Sharina Henriquez

Since May, Venezuelan migrants detained in a detention facility administered by Aruba’s coast guard, the Guarda Nos Costa (GNC), have participated in four protests asking to be returned to Venezuela.

To understand why anyone amid the Covid-19 pandemic would want to go back to a country with a collapsed health system that is not welcoming returnees, you need to be familiar with the GNC migrant detention facility.

Information from the facility is limited, as humanitarian groups have recently been denied access. But media outlets and human rights organizations have reported poor conditions, including overcrowding, violence from the guards, and lack of basic hygiene products. One detained migrant said they do not receive visits nor adequate nutrition, and are only sporadically allowed to speak over the phone for a few minutes with their families in Venezuela.  

Authorities have not permitted flights or boat traffic between Aruba and Venezuela since February 2019, effectively halting deportation processes. But, in violation of international law, they continue to keep Venezuelan migrants in detention. Some have been detained for over six months.

Aruba should release migrants who cannot imminently be deported to their country of origin.

Releases are not only in line with international human rights law, but also an important step in addressing the increased risk of contracting the novel coronavirus that people in detention face, given overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. As of August 21, Aruba has had 1,387 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 6 deaths. Authorities haven’t said whether there have been confirmed cases or deaths inside GNC detention facilities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that “people deprived of their liberty … are likely to be more vulnerable to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak than the general population because of the confined conditions in which they live together for prolonged periods of time.” The United Nations Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture has urged governments to “[r]eview the use of immigration detention and closed refugee camps with a view to reducing their population to the lowest possible level” in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Aruba should act now to solve the crisis in migrant detention facilities and prevent a Covid-19 outbreak that would affect those inside and outside the centers.

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