UNICEF worried at treatment of children leaving Venezuela for LAC countries

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The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is expressing concerns at the high number of children leaving Venezuela and moving into Latin America and Caribbean countries, most notably Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
UNICEF said that while it is estimated that a significant number of people may leave Venezuela by the end of 2018, women, unaccompanied children and indigenous groups are particularly at risk of violence, discrimination, trafficking, exploitation and abuse.
It said that the health and nutrition situation of children and lactating women is also deteriorating due to the lack of available quality food and drinking water, and unsanitary conditions.
“While the situation is evolving and assessments are still ongoing in many of the receiving and transit countries, nearly 1.3 million people (400,000 children), including both migrants and host communities, are estimated to be in need of assistance in Colombia, Brazil, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago,’ UNICEF said.
The United Nations organisation said that thousands of children are not enjoying their right to education, as they face barriers related to language, legal status or local schools’ absorption capacities given the scale of migration.
“The dynamic and complex nature of population movements require ongoing monitoring and assessment and a differentiated and flexible response for the diverse group of vulnerable people. “
In its “Situation Report” titled “Migration Flows in Latin America and the Caribbean,’ UNICEF notes that Guyana and Venezuela share a porous border stretching over 789 km, with only two formal border-posts along the route.
It said that many Venezuelans and people who have claimed Guyanese citizenship – often through a family member who emigrated from Guyana to Venezuela in previous decades – are crossing into Guyana at numerous points along the river, without going through a formal registration process.
UNICEF said that while regions in Guyana share a border with Venezuela, nevertheless it has been reported that Venezuelans are also entering the country through the Brazilian border.
“Government capacities to register and process arrivals at the three formal crossing points is limited. In addition, there are many informal entry points where registration is not taking place. As a result, official statistics do not fully reflect the reality of the numbers of returning Guyanese and Venezuelans entering Guyana (estimations indicate that only 2 out of 10 are registered),” UNICEF said.
The Ministry of Citizenship has noted significant increases in the official entries from Venezuela rising from 892 in 2016 to 1,644 up to July 2018.
The figures include 50 per cent women and 15 per cent children.
UNICEF said based on International Organisation for Migration (IOM) figures, there are some 10,500 – 14,500 (settling in) and 40,000 – 60,000 (short-term visit) Venezuelans entering Guyana, with differentiated needs.
“Up to 12,000 people, including 4,800 children, are in need of assistance,” it said, noting that in communities where Venezuelans are settling they already face significant strains on basic social services.
In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, UNICEF said an estimated 90,000 Venezuelans have migrated to the oil rich twin-island republic and that figures provided by the Immigration Division, show that the number of Venezuelans exceeding their legal stay in the country increased by 150 per cent between 2016 and 2017.
“It is estimated that nearly 40,000 Venezuelans, 10 per cent of them children, are in irregular migratory situation, without documentation or permission to remain legally in Trinidad and Tobago.
“Consequently, they are unable to access basic services – including education, are separated from their families and exposed to dangers of exploitation, extortion, trafficking, abuse, manipulation, and a wide range of other risks including psychological distress, discrimination and xenophobia,’ UNICEF report noted.
It said that according to the current trends, it is estimated that the numbers will increase, overstretching the country’s already overcrowded services and capacity to cope.
“There are also challenges in identifying and tracking the undocumented population. The UN system and national partners are working with authorities to review existing legislation and public policies to provide a more comprehensive and protective environment for the migrant population.
“Local non-governmental organisations are working to provide support to the migrant families, including running a temporary learning facility, and providing legal advice and support. Among the main concerns regarding the situation of Venezuelans in Trinidad and Tobago is the absence of national legislation governing asylum matters.”
UNICEF said that the Trinidad and Tobago government is in the process of drafting legislation with UNHCR’s technical assistance, but noted that access to free early childhood and primary level education remains a challenge for nationals, and more so for children of migrant families.
“For children in the context of migration, enrolment in the public schools requires a student permit, granted by the Ministry of National Security and normally tied to their parents having been granted work permits or legal status.
“In response to the challenges for access to education, Living Water Community, a local NGO and long-standing implementing partner of UNHCR, established a temporary learning facility providing education to children of asylum seekers and refugees from several countries including Venezuela. Additionally, there are limited recreational facilities, a gap which local organisations are working to address.”
UNICEF said that the irregular status of most migrants often hinders them from seeking protection and national security services for fear of deportation.
“At present, there are five unaccompanied or separated children registered with UNHCR, who are receiving support from Living Water Community and whose case management is the concern of the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago.
“There is an absence of psycho-social support and referral systems. The lack of accurate data is also a major challenge to design a comprehensive protection response plan at national level. The dispersion of the migrant population makes it harder to monitor and follow-up cases of children and adolescents’ protection needs,” the UNICEF Situation Report noted.

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