Venezuela: Abusive Treatment of Returnees

Venezuelan authorities’ treatment of approximately 100,000 citizens returning from other countries in many cases is abusive and is likely to amplify transmission of Covid-19, Human Rights Watch and the Johns Hopkins University’s Centers for Public Health and Human Rights and for Humanitarian Health said today. Foreign affairs ministers from Latin American countries scheduled to meet online the week of October 19, 2020, as part of the Quito Process should urgently address the returnees’ situation.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans, most of whom were living in other Latin American countries, are returning to Venezuela because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic impact. Human Rights Watch and the Johns Hopkins centers found overcrowded and unsanitary quarantine centers for the people returning, with little access to food, water, or medical care. Some who protested the conditions were threatened with arrest. And due to Covid-19 testing delays and an unnecessarily elaborate testing protocol, many people have been quarantined for weeks longer than the 14 days the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends.

Transcript

We want the damn results so we can be at peace. That is all that we want.

These are Venezuelan returnees demanding the results of their coronavirus tests from military personnel. Thousands have been required to quarantine in unsanitary and overcrowded centers upon arrival. Without test results, they can’t return home.

Since 2014, more than 5 million Venezuelans have fled the country’s humanitarian, political, and economic crisis, many seeking refuge in countries across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic consequences, over 100,000 have come back to Venezuela.

Voice of Returnee

By not having a way to pay for residency, not having a way to pay for food, not having a way to pay for services, unfortunately we couldn't stay [in Colombia].

The journey home is long and difficult.

Voice of Returnee

Brothers and sisters, they come from Peru, from Chile, from Ecuador, walking with the intention of reaching Venezuela and they only receive contempt, because we are treated like a plague.

Rather than waiting indefinitely at the official crossings, many returnees resort to unofficial border routes, called trochas.

Nicolás Maduro, President of Venezuela, July 14, 2020

You prefer to cross through the trocha illegally and then contaminate all of the country!

Venezuelan authorities have called returnees “biological weapons” and “bioterrorists.”

After crossing the border, they face long waits to be admitted to quarantine centers, with little assistance and no social distancing.

Most returnees are then required to remain in quarantine centers set up in places like schools, stadiums and even bus terminals.  Many centers are overcrowded and unsanitary, with limited access to water, food, and medical attention.

Voice of Returnee

My Venezuelan brothers and sisters do not deserve this for wanting to return to their homeland. This seems like jail… as if we were paying a crime for having left the country.

Often, due to delays in testing and an unnecessarily elaborate testing protocol, people have been required to remain in these quarantine centers for weeks longer than the standard 14 days recommended by the World Health Organization.

Instead of preventing its spread, the conditions at the centers are likely to amplify transmission of Covid-19.

Venezuelan authorities have an obligation to care for people they are requiring to remain in quarantine, and protect them from Covid-19's spread.

Latin American governments committed to responding to the Venezuelan exodus should protect the returnees’ rights and call for an end to the abusive conditions in quarantine centers.

Voice of Returnee

We ask the whole world, please, that we are not statistics, that we are not numbers. We are feelings, we are hearts.

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