In the fourth year of the Venezuelan crisis, which has affected over 5.1 million refugees and migrants globally, the number of Venezuelans who have fled their country as refugees and migrants continued to grow. As of December 2019, 113,500 Venezuelans had sought protection, basic rights and essential services in the Caribbean. From this rapidly increasing figure, an estimated 17,000 settled in Aruba, 17,000 in Curaçao, 114,500 in the Dominican Republic, 23,300 in Guyana and 24,000 in Trinidad and Tobago . Partners estimate that by the end of 2020 over 194,600 Venezuelans and people from host communities will be in need of assistance in the Caribbean.
In some of these small countries, this situation has further strained already stretched services, raising concerns and integration challenges. In 2019, the island of Aruba hosted the world’s largest number of Venezuelans displaced abroad relative to its population (1 in 6) while Curaçao hosted third largest proportion of Venezuelan refugees and migrants, with 1 in 10 persons. As Caribbean R4V countries adopt different approaches to respond to the influx, some have imposed visa requirements, putting additional strains for Venezuelans in need of international protection to access territory.
As a result of these restrictions, many have been forced to resort to dangerous boat travels and are exposed to human trafficking and smuggling risks, as well as risks at sea, which have taken the lives of many people, while others have gone missing. Additionally, many Venezuelans in the sub-region have arrived with tourist visas and were left with few options to obtain a residency or work permit, having no access to basic services or employment, thereby leaving them particularly vulnerable to trafficking, abuse and exploitation .
With the report of the first cases of Covid-19 in the sub-region in March 2020 and the subsequent closure of borders, lockdown, curfews and restrictions, the situation of Venezuelans has become increasingly dire, as many have lost their livelihoods, face eviction, food insecurity and exacerbated protection risks that were already present in many sub-regional countries. By June 2020 Aruba, Curaçao, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana had only 3, 4, 130 and 248 confirmed cases of Covid-19 respectively but the Dominican Republic already noted a spike, reaching a total of 31,816 cases by 30 June. Countries reopened certain business sectors and reduced curfew hours while maintaining physical distancing protocols and movement restrictions were partially lifted in all countries.
Since the start of the crisis, these lockdowns and confinement measures resulted in severe hardship for host populations, refugees and migrants, causing a sudden loss of income and undermining their capacity to meet basic needs. This situation left refugees and migrants with heightened health and protection risks such as evictions and exposure to exploitation and violence, including gender-based violence (GBV). Mental distress caused by isolation, restrictions of movements and socioeconomic difficulties were also noted to be on the rise. In light of this dramatic change of context, national platforms developed preparedness and response plans to contain the spread of the Covid-19 in the Caribbean. They also adapted the delivery of emergency assistance (food assistance, hygiene kits, non-food items and shelter support) and psychosocial support while minimizing direct contact using remote interviews, cash-based interventions (CBI) and vouchers.