According to the Global Report 2016 published this year by the UN Refugee Agency, violent conflict and persecution, compounded by rising food insecurity, environmental degradation, poor governance and countless other factors, drove more than three million people to leave their countries as refugees or to seek asylum in 2016, joining millions of others already in exile. Many more people were trapped or uprooted inside their own countries. Political solutions and prospects for peace remained elusive in most situations, and while some did manage to return home or find other solutions, at the end of the year the global number of displaced people exceeded 67 million.
The majority of the world’s refugees found safety in neighbouring countries, many of which have a tradition of providing refuge despite pressing development challenges. These countries opened their doors to people fleeing conflict and persecution, showing compassion, generosity and a commitment to the principles of international protection. At the same time, hospitality waned in some regions and a growing sentiment of “enough is enough” found expression in restrictions on access, to protection and pressure to return in conditions that were less than voluntary.
In the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, growing political, social and economic tensions throughout the year led to the displacement of Venezuelans. Since 2011, over 45,000 lodged asylum claims in the Americas and beyond, including at least 27,000 who applied in 2016 mainly in Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, Spain and the United States. While the number of Venezuelans granted refugee status increased, most tried to regularise their status under different bilateral or multilateral regional frameworks in host countries within the region. In the Caribbean, given the small size of some of the island States, the arrival of Venezuelans, even in relatively small numbers, had a disproportionate impact on their limited reception capacities.
In view of an increasing number of arrivals of Venezuelan citizens, UNHCR fielded a mission to Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago and Brazil in May. An update released by the UN Refugee Agency on May 19 stated that Trinidad and Tobago is confronted with a situation of over 40,000 Venezuelans currently present in the country and as the social upheaval continues in Caracas and other major cities, this figure is expected to grow before the end of the year. The mission found that there were no consistent efforts to register the number of Venezuelan nationals either entering or remaining in the Brazil, Colombia or Trinidad and Tobago. Due to application obstacles, including long waiting periods and fees, many Venezuelans opt to remain in an ‘irregular’ situation instead of using asylum or migratory procedures to regularise their stay and additionally, the borders are also long and porous.
As a country, we need to be prepared to deal with the effects of this migration crisis, especially in this time of economic instability. There are costs that must be borne by the State which we must face. The cost of health care and education are just two that arise. There is also the issue of the type of jobs they engage in, what are the effects on the labour market, and is there going to be displacement of local workers. The concern about fiscal strain at this time raises the need for a policy decision to be made by the government in terms of how to handle the increased inflow of people from these neighbouring countries. Indeed, such a decision will influence what the net economic effect will be in the medium term. We have to assess the social, cultural and economic impact of the arrival of these people? As citizens, we just need a better understanding of what is taking place.