The shadow of hunger and poverty has struck Guyana’s once oil-rich neighbour Venezuela and people are fleeing by the thousands looking for a place to survive, a job to provide food for their families. But their neighbours are on the fence on whether to offer assistance, as the ordinary Venezuelan goes hungry.
These were the sentiments expressed by political activist David Hinds on Thursday in an interview with Guyana Times.
“If people are undergoing hardships, they are not always going to obey the rules. What they will be doing is fleeing as a form of survival and so we will have Venezuelans who will be coming into Guyana illegally and we have to find a way of balancing respect for the law and also balancing that with the humanitarian situation,” Hinds asserted.
Currently, Venezuela is suffering its worst ever economic crisis; the once rich country now has the world’s worst negative growth rate (-8 per cent) and an inflation rate of 482 per cent. Unemployment is climbing and thousands are lined up every day to receive portions of staples.
Everything is rationed and transported under armed guard; supermarkets are looted and protests for the removal of the government are wracking the country.
Responding to over a dozen Venezuelans being deported on Monday, Hinds stated that Guyana should deal with the situation on two levels—a governmental political level and more importantly, on a humanitarian level.
On Wednesday, Minister of State Joseph Harmon said the Government has a humanitarian responsibility to accept Venezuelans arriving here in search of better lives but demanded that they should not do so illegally.
He stated that Guyana is in treaty to international agreements which give support to countries in situations like Venezuela and so: “We have made it clear that on humanitarian grounds that we will not turn back Venezuelans who come to seek help here in Guyana… so anybody coming from Venezuela for food and things like that, we support people who come to Guyana on those grounds.”
Hinds however stated that mass deportation of illegal Venezuelans might not be the sensible thing, given the circumstances. He noted that while there will be people who will use the crisis to enter Guyana to do crime, he does believe that people are legitimately fleeing Venezuela for humanitarian reasons and the good ones should not be deported: “We need to sift the bad ones from the good ones.”
He went on: “Mass deportation is not a sensible thing to do in these circumstances because we are going to look like the Europeans who deported Syrians. I would not like to see Guyana engaged in that.”
For years, Guyana and Venezuela have been divided over a border controversy, where Venezuela has been unrelenting in staking claims over the Essequibo County.
Hinds, nevertheless, stated that Guyana needs to make the distinction between the people and the government: “It is their government who has been strident in wanting our lands but the ordinary people no…we have to make the distinction between them and their government.”
He continued:”The ordinary people are fleeing a situation that is becoming terrible…and we have to in some way not link assistance to poor people in Venezuela with the border controversy. Ordinary people in Venezuela did not make the policies that have led to the problems that they are having so I think we have to be human even as we take into consideration our political interest and our national interest.”
Among those deported on Monday were five mothers and nine fathers, who were miners. With the help of a translator, the refugees cried out that they had fledVenezuela with the hope of finding jobs in Guyana to support their families who have remained in the crisis-ridden country.
One woman explained that they were punishing in Venezuela since there were no jobs and only very limited access to food.
Sources have confirmed that an additional 100 more are expected to be deported in the coming weeks.
Hinds stated that although Guyana is on a strain to provide for its people, the topic of refugee status can be considered. “If we are going to go down the road of giving these people refugee status, then government needs to decide how many of them it can accommodate and where we will put them,” he said.
With Venezuela sliding further into crisis and no evidence of an economic turn-around, it is predicted that there will be a refugee crisis in the region as persons will continue to flee the country and enter its neighbouring countries.