Integration is defined as “the two-way process of mutual adaptation between [refugees and] migrants and the societies in which they live, whereby [refugees and] migrants are incorporated into the social, economic, cultural and political life of the receiving community”1. Integration allows the host community to benefit from refugees and migrants’ skills, expertise, and knowledge as they become self-reliant and contribute positively to the receiving country. The process has positive repercussions on peaceful coexistence between the host society and refugees and migrants, both as individuals and as groups.
Refugees and migrants’ legal status and access to rights and social services often promotes or hinders integration, a process that cannot occur in isolation. It intersects with several areas, including employment, labour equal opportunities, non-discrimination, social cohesion, public health, education, stay-permits, nationality security, as well as the protection of human rights.
In recent years, a rising number of Venezuelans fleeing life-threatening violence and persecution owing to political and economic factors in Venezuela, have sought protection in the Caribbean. At the beginning of 2020, the population of Venezuelan refugees and migrants was 113,500: 17,000 had reportedly settled in Aruba, 16,500 in Curaçao, 34,000 in Dominican Republic, 22,000 in Guyana, and 24,000 in Trinidad and Tobago.
Due to their irregular status and the lack of alternative legal pathways to regularization, perspectives for integration for Venezuelans in the Caribbean sub-region are very limited. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the context even more adverse for integration, putting an additional strain on Venezuelans.3 Very often, social security and welfare schemes do not include refugees and migrants, especially those undocumented and, depending on the Caribbean country, access to education and healthcare is challenging or non-existent. Coupled with the economic downturn, many refugees and migrants are left with very few resources to meet their basic needs, and more individuals have become dependent on the already limited humanitarian assistance.
Situation, Needs and Challenges- Sub-regional Overview
The sudden increase of the population of Venezuelans in the Caribbean has undoubtedly raised questions about growing pressure over public resources of host countries, where locals have expressed concern that the influx is straining already vulnerable host communities’ labour markets and limited resources. In Aruba and Curaçao in particular, two of the world’s largest hosting countries of refugees and migrants per capita, there are raising concerns over absorption capacity. Coupled with cultural and language barriers, this has led to several cases of intolerance and xenophobia in most Caribbean R4V countries. Prevalent opinions stigmatizing Venezuelans as squatters and criminals4 have instilled negative sentiment, making the integration of Venezuelans in host countries and the fostering of peaceful co-existence in local Caribbean communities that receive them, a key issue.
Furthermore, the lack of regular migratory status of many Venezuelans and of regularization pathways consequently affects access to basic rights such as formal accredited education, formal labor markets and financial systems exposing Venezuelans to possible abuse and exploitation and hindering any opportunity of integration.
Even in the countries where official access is granted for public primary and secondary schooling, there are frequently administrative, financial, language and cultural barriers to education, and limited opportunities to access tertiary education throughout the region. There have also been occasional reports of xenophobia and bullying in schools. All these factors present challenges to integration, making this a key area of intervention for R4V partners across the Caribbean sub-region, namely in Aruba, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago.