By 31 December, Aruba had a total of 5,489 COVID-19 cases, 291 active cases and 49 deaths. Curaçao COVID-19 infections reached a total of 4,260 cases including 1,321 active cases and the death toll moved to 14. Trinidad and Tobago reached 7,150 cases, 373 active cases with 127 deaths. Guyana reported 6,332 total cases, 348 active cases and moved to 164 deaths. The Dominican Republic stood out at 170,785 total confirmed cases, 37,186 active cases with 2,414 deaths. The high rate of unemployment caused by the pandemic and financial crisis led to continued food insecurity and increased threat of evictions of nationals and refugees and migrants in all Caribbean sub-regional countries. In December, the Dutch government announced a code orange alert for Aruba and Curaçao, advising against all but essential travel.
On 10 December, the R4V regional plaƞorm launched its US$1.44 billion regional (RMRP) plan to respond to the growing needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela and the communities hosting them across 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. This was followed by Caribbean sub-regional countries’, high-level national launches which were sucessfully held between the 14-16 December, and which showcased the Caribbean RMRP 2021 plan, its US $40,019,241 budget, which will allow 26 appealing agencies (plus implementing partners), to target 128,176 Venezuelans across the Caribbean sub-region, with 382 activities.
In Aruba persons were obliged to test upon arrival at the airport. Aruban restaurants provided in-house dining for 10 persons maximum, yet bars not serving food remained closed. Covid outbreaks impacted schools with boards evaluating temporary closures. 140 Venezuelans left Aruba on a fifth repatriation flight of 23 December. Resulting from the pandemic, approximately 6,000 refugees and migrants (to date) of various nationalities, including Venezuelans lost their jobs and subsequently their guarantors, placing them at the risk of becoming irregular. Restrictions to stay in regular status remained linked to work availability, but jobs continued to be prioritized for Arubans. The authorities remained concerned about the future of the economy even as the Council of Ministers from the Kingdom of the Netherlands approved Aruba Florins 71 million as an advance on a loan to Aruba for 2021. Also, the Minister of Justice visited a building to be renewed for use by the Police and Immigration departments, highlighting focussed efforts on Aruba’s frontier protection. Additionally, the government announced that from the 15 Jan 2021 visas will be required for Venezuelans entering Dutch Caribbean islands.
On 8 December, Curaçao went into partial lockdown. Existing curfews and other internal restrictions remained in place through 11 Jan 2021 to respond to increased COVID-19 cases; severely constraining prospects for economic recovery and further disproportionately affecting refugees’ and migrants’ abilities to meet their basic needs. The holiday season was celebrated with limited company as a maximum of three visitors per day could be received at homes. The food service industry remained closed. Individuals were advised to work from home if possible, and the Red Cross re-started distribution of food vouchers for host community members and Venezuelans, coordinated by R4V partners. On first and 21 December, two return flights were organized from Curaçao to Venezuela, with some 230 Venezuelans onboard.
In the Dominican Republic, stricter COVID related curfew measures were enforced for the holiday period, especially within major cities. Venezuelans’ livelihoods and access to basic needs continued to be negatively affected. All fuel prices dramatically increased on 5 December adding to economic difficulties and prompting protests. Additionally, nearly 1,000 persons were arrested on Christmas eve for violating imposed curfews.
Although pandemic measures continue to have socioeconomic impacts on the host community and refugees and migrants, Guyana’s fast ascension to the rank of petroleum prompted positive outlooks from its government who announced plans to establish a worldclass petroleum institute and training centre in Guyana.
Separately, they revealed intentions of providing free university education by end of 2024. On 5 December the Health Ministry sets protocols for Guyana-Suriname border areas. On 11 December, an enabling environment and political stability in the country encouraged the European Union to disburse €19.8 billion (approximately US$92 million) to Guyana, to aid in inclusive and sustainable development as the country moved to create a “better life for all”. Internally, following his promise for inclusive governance, President Ali dispatched invitation letters to all of Guyana’s previous presidents for a meeting to discuss national issues. In his New Year’s address, he indicated that “Never again will anyone suffer the indignity of losing their household appliances by virtue of missing a payment,” creating also hope for vulnerable refugees and migrants in the country.
Trinidad and Tobago’s borders remained closed during December, and COVID-19 infection rates stabilized. On 5 December, the Prime Minister announced that schools would re-open virtually on 4 January 2021 and students preparing for exams would return to physical locations. All students would be required to follow distancing and hygienic protocols. Separately, the country plans to accept and administer COVID-19 vaccines that are certified and approved by the World Health Organization, even as partners recorded increased requests for assistance with secondary and tertiary health. Venezuelans continued attempts to enter T&T irregularly, facing detention by authorities and deportation. In one tragic incident, the bodies of over 30 Venezuelans, including children, were found 6.3 nautical miles from the city of Güiria, within Venezuela’s jurisdiction, after the boat in which they were attempting to enter T&T territory sank. The InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asked Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago "to immediately implement an impartial, effective investigation into the events". The incident prompted a joint statement from UNHCR and IOM and another statement from the OHCHR which called on governments to “halt pushbacks at sea in violation of the principle of nonrefoulement”. Venezuelan authorities stated that the boat sank due to extreme overcrowding, just off the coast of Venezuela. Meanwhile, detentions and deportations to Venezuela continued in December, with persons being returned. The authorities articulated there will be no second registration exercise, however suggested that Venezuelans registered with the government would likely have their documentation renewed into 2021; official notice of this is yet to be released.