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Safe country: the new invention to justify deportations to Venezuela

Venezuelans board a plane in the US to be deported. Photo EFE – Joédson Alves

In April 2023, the Icelandic Directorate General of Migration added Venezuela to its list of safe countries. Shortly after, rejections of asylum applications began and, in November of the same year, deportations. The same pattern was observed in the case of the US starting in October. For their part, the foreign ministers of Colombia and Venezuela signed an agreement for the “Safe Return of Girls, Boys and Adolescents without parental care” while, arguing that the transit of Venezuelans through the Darién will end when sanctions against Venezuela are lifted, the Colombian president proposed to the United States the development of a “humanization program for the exodus,” consisting of the provision of economic stabilization bonds so that migrants from Venezuela return to their place of origin, according to the note published by the Foreign Ministry of that country. Almost simultaneously, the government of Peru approved a decree that authorizes deportations within 48 hours, clarifying that human rights and due process will be respected, an issue that is difficult to imagine in a summary period such as the one agreed upon.

Everything indicates that the fatigue that many countries feel in the absence of solutions to the political-institutional crisis in Venezuela is a bill that is being exacted from Venezuelan migrants and refugee seekers through deportation and encouragement of “volunteer” return. To justify these actions, it is alleged that Venezuela is a safe country. The most recent figures published by HumVenezuela deny this supposed improvement that the Maduro administration has tried to impose.

Regarding income and livelihoods, HumVenezuela recorded an increase in the loss of household income sources from 53.6% to 61.5% between March 2022 and August 2023. This decrease in income is affecting the food insecurity of families, leading 91.6% of households to resort to survival strategies so that their members can eat, which has especially affected protein intake, which registers the greatest deficit of more than 60% in its consumption.

This picture of loss of income and food security is also reflected in more diseases that cannot be adequately treated due to the ineffectiveness of health services. The Barrio Adentro program, presented in its beginnings as an example of management in the matter, is 97.8% inoperative, while other services of the health system also present high rates of inoperability: Popular Clinics (97.3 %), Comprehensive Care Centers (90.1%), Outpatient Clinics (87.8%) and Hospitals (74.3%).

On the other hand, 26.7% of the school-age population is not attending school, and those who do attend do so irregularly, registering an increase from 44.8% to 50.7% in the 3-years-old to 17 years old population.

In terms of services, the situation continues to deteriorate. Between June 2021 and August 2023, households without regular access to water increased from 69.1% to 74.5%. Frequent and prolonged interruptions in the electricity supply increased from 26.4% to 58.6% between June 2021 and August 2023, and households without access to a public transport service increased from 17.1% to 28. .1%, between March 2022 and August 2023. In addition, an increase in severe failures was recorded in the internet service, which went from 9.2% to 26.6% between 2021 and 2023.

Added to all of the above is an increase in the action of irregular armed groups, going from 19.2% in June 2021 to 24.7% in August 2023, in a context of the highest inflation and the lowest minimum wage on the continent. Hence, plans to leave home increased, from 8% to 13.1% between March 2022 and August 2023, and of this group, 72.8% intend to migrate to another country.

Thus, Venezuela is not a safe country for anyone, neither for those who live in its territory, nor for those who return; not only because they will be subjected to the persistent humanitarian emergency, but because the reception of the deportees falls, at best, into the category of inhuman and degrading treatment. Deportees who have arrived from the US and Iceland have been isolated and held against their will, without access to their families or the media. According to some testimonies, they have been forced to sign a paper whose contents they do not know and at least three deportees were immediately detained for alleged outstanding arrest warrants against them.

Venezuela continues to be a destination full of risks and the international community must make efforts to agree on humanitarian options for managing population flows from the country, using deportation only in a strictly exceptional manner and not as the main response. Likewise, it is unacceptable to agree on “voluntary” repatriation with the same government that led to the departure of millions of people, long before the imposition of sanctions.