U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - Venezuela



Refoulement/Asylum  There were no reports of refoulement. The Venezuelan Constitution recognized the right to asylum and the 2001 Organic Law on Refugees and Asylum Seekers (Organic Refugee Law) prohibited refoulement and guaranteed refugees the constitutional rights of aliens in general. In 2004, the National Refugee Commission (NRC) established a technical secretariat in the capital, and three regional ones at the border states of Táchira, Apure, and Zulia.

Asylum seekers could register with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partner agencies, or through the technical secretariats. UNHCR or its partner agencies conducted preliminary interviews and submitted applications to the NRC, which then called and interviewed applicants. The Organic Refugee Law allowed applicants to request and receive legal counsel from UNHCR and other human rights organizations. The NRC decided the asylum cases and UNHCR participated with voice but no vote.

According to the Organic Refugee Law, the NRC had 90 days to decide cases, but it generally took about 6 months. It technically had to give reasons for denials, but generally did not do so. Applicants had 15 working days to appeal negative decisions, and the NRC had 90 days to rule on them. Asylum seekers could also submit their cases to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice for reconsideration if the appeal failed.

Since its creation in August 2003, the NRC received asylum applications from 3,800 persons. Beginning in February 2004, it granted refugee status to 207 persons with about 3,000 cases pending at the end of the year. The NRC also granted temporary protection to 292 indigenous wayúu who fled violence in their community of Bahia Portete (La Guajira, Colombia). The protection was valid for 90 days and renewable. It allowed them to remain in the territory and to receive aid from the National Civil Protection Office.

Some 300,000 Colombians without status, many in need of international protection, received permanent residence through a new regularization process that started early in the year. Many others, however, could not meet the requirements of proof of residence and judicial record checks in both Venezuela and Colombia. While Venezuela officially hosted about 4,200 refugees and asylum seekers, almost all Colombians, an estimated 180,000 Colombians in need of international protection remained in Venezuela.

Detention  There were some reports of arbitrary detention, abuse, or mistreatment of refugees and asylum seekers. One asylum seeker was killed in a confrontation with the police. In September, unidentified armed groups operating at the border region of Alto Apure killed five members of the Venezuelan armed forces. Following the incident, Colombian asylum seekers were detained during raids carried out by the military.

The Organic Refugee Law stated that refugees should not be punished for illegal entry. It also stated that refugees were required to submit their asylum cases "without delay" once they were in the national territory. Through the National Office of Identification and Foreign Population Affairs, NRC issued asylum seekers monthly renewable provisional identification documents, which allowed them to remain in the territory until it made final decisions on their request for asylum. UNHCR also registered asylum seekers in the border areas and issued temporary documentation on behalf of the Government.

The Ministry of the Interior and Justice issued recognized refugees identification and permanent resident visas, which cost about $53. Many refugees, however, did not posses valid Colombian passports, which were required for the visa and which cost about $128.

According to the Constitution and the Organic Law on the Protection of Constitutional Rights and Guarantees, all persons were entitled access to the judicial system. The Government, however, did not provide legal assistance to refugees and the Courts moved slowly. A few nongovernmental organizations provided legal services to refugees on an ad hoc basis.

Right to Earn a Livelihood  Venezuela allowed recognized refugees to work, to run businesses, to practice professions, and to own and transfer property. To do so, however, required identity cards few could afford. As a result, the majority of refugees remained unemployed or worked in the informal sector. Asylum seekers could not legally work but did so informally. UNHCR sponsored micro-credit programs for income-generating activities for refugees and asylum seekers.

Freedom of Movement and Residence  Refugees and asylum seekers could move about freely and reside where they chose, but they were required to notify the NRC of their residence and any change of address. There were no refugee camps in Venezuela. Some refugees reported that the Venezuelan police demanded money in order to allow them to travel to other parts of the territory.

Public Relief and Education  Recognized refugees enjoyed public assistance on par with nationals. UNHCR and its partner agencies provided limited healthcare and emergency shelters. UNHCR, Caritas, and the Jesuit Refugee Service implemented community projects in border regions that, since 2002, benefited more than 26,000 persons in 24 communities, including refugees. These included repair of local water pumps and construction of a boat to ferry children to school in Apure state.

About 80 percent of the refugee and asylum seeker children attended public elementary and high schools. According to the Organic Refugee Law, children could use refugee documentation to attend school. The Constitution and the 1980 Education Act stated that every person had a right to education, without distinction between citizens and noncitizens. In addition, a 2003 resolution by the Ministry of Education required public schools to admit children without identity documents. Many refugee and asylum seekers also benefited from the health and education missions sponsored by the Chavez administration.

Copyright 2005, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants


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