Venezuelan refugees and migrants require the commitment of the international community

Global Networks and Organizations of the Society of Jesus, along with the Clamor Network, call on the international community to address the the needs of over 7 million Venezuelan refugees and those forced to migrate.  

On March 16th and 17th, 2023, the International Conference of Donors in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants will be held in Brussels, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the European Union (EU), and the Government of Canada.

Several organizations of the Society of Jesus and the Clamor Network have written to representatives of the States and delegates to this Conference to share the reality of the 7 million Venezuelan people who have been forced to abandon their country due to a crisis which has become invisible to global community over the past seven years.

As Catholic organizations we urge the international community to respond to this humanitarian crisis and we insist on a peaceful and democratic end to the suffering of the Venezuelan people. Meanwhile we recognize that, while this crisis remains unresolved, migration will continue to be the only option that many people will have to protect their lives and rights.

Furthermore, we recognize the devastating effects that the pandemic and the ever more restrictive political policies have had on this vulnerable population. We call on the States represented at this Conference to remain committed to defending the human rights of refugees and people who are forced to migrate. Likewise, we ask these states to focus their response on concrete actions that allow for regularization, integration, and access to human rights in the receiving countries so that these refugees and migrants can contribute to the communities that welcome them and begin to reestablish their life projects.

We collectively insist on solidarity, welcoming, hospitality, and reconciliation as principles that allow us to recognize and enhance the positive aspects of migration and to reject discrimination and xenophobia. This Conference is an opportunity to commit the necessary resources to achieve international goals and commitments, as well as to provide a coordinated response between States and international organizations.

In these documents (Esp / Eng / Fra / Por), you can find the recommendations presented by the signatory organizations.

Canadian Jesuits International
Federación Internacional de Fe y Alegría (FIFyA)
Global Ignatian Advocacy Network (GIAN) of Migration
Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)
Magis Americas
Red Jesuita con Migrantes – Latinoamérica y el Caribe (RJM-LAC)

From Venezuela to Brazil, the Lord Brought Us Here

“Ah, you speak Spanish, thank God” is one of the most common expressions heard by the Fe y Alegría Boa Vista – Brazil staff when they receive a Venezuelan immigrant. This is the expression of those who arrive tired from traveling by foot or bicycle under the beaming sun, adding mileage to an already long journey from an empty house located in what was before their home city. As they take their second breath, they spot the red heart logo with three children drawn in the interior. Venezuelans know this logo, they identify a connection with their beloved country. They know this logo represents something good. In Venezuela, it is everywhere, in hundreds of schools, representing popular education programs. Sometimes these immigrants don’t come alone, they are accompanied by their family, including small children and babies, looking for help in order to achieve what they long for, a better future for their family.

Fe y Alegría did not arrive at Boa Vista by coincidence. We are here as a result of the observation, discernment, and actions of men and women who recognized the necessity of being present at the frontiers of exclusion. I always remember with happiness Ronilson Braga Agnaldo Junior y Pedro Pereira (Pedriño) Jesuits priests who brought forth the Company of Jesus to the north of Brazil. In 2018 we embarked on a path of great challenges and major learnings, first in our work with children, and later, little by little with their families and the community that welcomes them. In the first years, we established our service of coexistence and strengthening of bonds for children and adolescents, guaranteeing them basic services of protection, food, integration to Brazilian society, and the enjoyment of their rights. Today, 3 years later, Fe y Alegría Brazil accompanies thousands of immigrant families and nationals in the middle of a pandemic. Our humanitarian assistance includes delivering food, hygiene kits for the prevention of Covid-19, gas refills, clothes, and accessories for pregnant women, in addition to the services that we already came to provide.

In search of new ways to help the families who experience vulnerability, this month of June we inaugurated the temporary shelter “José María Velaz”. This shelter will welcome families as they transition to other states of Brazil, supporting the efforts of “Operación Acogida” an initiative by the Brazilian army in its strategy to respond to the migratory crisis, called “Interiorization”. This initiative relocates migrants to other Brazilian states, better prepared to receive a high migratory flow. Additionally, Fe y Alegrías’ program supports these migrants by offering training workshops for entrepreneurs, accompanying and helping them for up to four months while their small businesses generate their first earnings. This program contributes to the integration and economic independence of those families who decide to settle in the city of Boa Vista.

Another line of action at Boa Vista is the project “Cuidando a la casa común” (“Taking care of the common home”). This program was developed as part of the Fe y Alegría International Federation initiative focused on integral ecology. At Fe y Algría Boa Vista, we accompany indigenous leaders– Warao, Eñepa, Kariña y Pemon with training, investigation, and activities that promote the recovery and preservation of their language and culture. These groups also are displaced migrants from Venezuela, who also face great challenges, as they work to adapt themselves to a different society and language, all the while trying to find a new place to live.

Brazil is large and diverse, Fe y Alegría is too. With a vocation of welcoming, protecting, and helping, the majority of our collaborators are bilingual, prepared for intercultural and interreligious work. This enables us to adapt to local realities and the specific needs of our beneficiaries. Being prepared to respond to challenging and constantly changing realities is key in our work. Our sense of commitment motivates us and prepares us to always be willing to welcome those who seek our services and think of creative ways to lessen the impact of forced migration on their lives.

The projects developed in Boa Vista are the result of combined work and collaboration; the team of staff members in the city, the team in our national headquarters in Sao Paulo, our national and international staff members, civil society organizations, religious organizations, other works of the company such as the Servicio Jesuita para Migrantes y Refugiados (SJMR) (Jesuit Service for Migrants and Refugees) and the university pastoral staff, in addition to volunteers that donate their time for this cause. Moreover, we are grateful to the countless Brazilians who have welcomed tens of thousands of migrants that have crossed the borders in the last 4 years in order to rebuild their lives and who, in gratitude, want to contribute to the development of this great nation.

I am also an immigrant. 4 Years ago, I arrived in Brazil, just like the others with a suitcase, intending to move a whole life to a different country. Today I understand that we are all migrants in this life, just passing through. As such, we are called to be empathetic with those who for different reasons are forced to abandon their country leaving behind family, a home, dreams, and roots. The migratory experience is painful, sometimes it includes poverty, loneliness, insecurity, and xenophobia, among others. This experience, however, can also be an extraordinary opportunity to extend our horizons, learn about the inherent richness of cultural diversity, in order to reconstruct our lives. Experience allows us to help those who come after us. Only God knows what will come from here. Echoing the words of the singer and philosopher Facundo Cabral, who after visiting over 100 countries was asked, “What is the best place in the world? ” He responded: “This one because the Lord brought me here”, today we can say the same. God brought us here, God blesses this place and the people that welcome us.

In Venezuela, Life Cannot Longer Wait

About 6 million Venezuelans have left their country during the first two decades of the 21st century, the vast majority have been forced to flee, especially since 2016. This exodus is massive, precarious and multi-causal. Despite COVID-19, the migratory flow dynamics have regained their driving force. The vast majority of Venezuelans who walk, or have settled outside of Venezuela, do so in neighboring countries and in Latin American territory. The Venezuelan diaspora competes with that of Syria to top the world ranking of people in need of international protection. Meanwhile, the situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate in terms of incompatibility of dignified life opportunities. If the question is to live, shouldn’t the international community offer a humanitarian response, with full access to rights and guaranteeing due protection? On World Refugee Day, we must remember that the Venezuelan exodus is an exodus of people seeking refuge.

From our perspective of a Network focused on Migrants, we could be tempted to fix our gaze, alone, on forced migration as a consequence of a country that is publicly and socially broken. We would have plenty of work. Despite the massive humanitarian urgency that the Venezuelan migratory flow represents; despite restrictive policies and various strategies of rejection and expulsion from countries of transit and destination; despite the growing political, media, and social trend that contributes to xenophobia and the criminalization of migration; despite the high risk of the journey, especially for certain vulnerable groups like women and children; despite the general precariousness of the conditions of walkers, etc… Despite all this, we cannot put aside the crisis that is being experienced within Venezuela. A profound multidimensional crisis, in which forced migration is only one of the expressions. A radical change in the internal situation of the country cannot be postponed. Today, Venezuela has an array of reasons that force millions of Venezuelans to flee the country – each time in worse conditions – or that condemn individuals to a life without possibilities (without hope?). Our call for the protection of the Venezuelan people who have left cannot silence the international responsibility, as humanity, to respond today to what is lived within Venezuela.

Let’s go back to the exodus. In recent years, rather than a change in the profile of who is fleeing, we have identified this profile has become generalized. Any Venezuelan is potentially a forced migrant because of the impossibility of accessing rights or the possibility of being subject to true risk within the country, there are not exceptions, but generalized features. For a long time, the conditions for the road have not been a determining factor in making the decision to move. The migratory call increasingly responds to a desperate attempt to live, regardless of the adjective or fundamentally broken right that we place next to it. This supposes an exponential increase in the migratory phenomenon with an absence of a true life project as a migrant, forced migration is proof that life, under certain conditions, can no longer be an expectation. Life is walking.

Linked to the lack of conditions to undertake the trip, we must bear in mind that the migration route, much earlier than at airports or official crossings between countries, begins at the door of the home or community. The internal transit in Venezuela towards the borders – at times remains invisible – posing extreme difficulty and high risks. This internal forced displacement requires humanitarian accompaniment and comprehensive protection. The scarcity of resources, limitations on humanitarian actors in Venezuela, and exposure to risks from legal and illegal frameworks in the country make humanitarian responses highly complicated.

The conditions of international transit propose other peculiarities and risks but fall under the same light as fragility, vulnerability, and precariousness. Crossing the border (either through official or unofficial paths) does not imply a triumphant arrival at a goal, nor does it necessarily imply the culmination of success. The humanitarian situation of the migrant walkers is alarming. There are many actors and situations of risk – trafficking and trafficking schemes throughout the continent, and shipwrecks in the Caribbean, among many others. Countries and the international community as a whole, cannot abstract from the collective responsibility for this map of disasters in the conditions of migration. Restrictive policies, the closure and militarization of borders, and other strategies to deter migration cause the disappearance and death of thousands of migrants, the alarming humanitarian situation, and deportation. Venezuelan forced migration is overwhelming and will continue to overwhelm any attempt to contain it, as long as the root causes of it remain.

The integration spaces in the host countries show very different realities. More than half of the Venezuelan people who make up this mass migration lack a regular situation in the country where they are, this implies an obvious limitation of access to rights and protection. In general, there are no reception policies that are truly comprehensive; that respond to the multiple dimensions of the human being; that take into consideration the differential approaches that respond to particularities of gender, age, ethnicity, sexual identity, and so on. The livelihoods of migrant populations have been especially affected during the pandemic. In many cases, the essential contribution they have made to society (care, food, etc.) has not been recognized. On the contrary, xenophobic discourses are constructed for electoral purposes, denying the human condition of the foreigner and identifying him/her as an invader or criminal. There are still territories that deny or limit access to the vaccine due to immigration status.

Every June 20 the international calendar reminds us of the reality of millions of refugees or people in need of international protection. Most never achieve recognition of their right to asylum. As UNHCR already did in May 2019, as well as a large part of civil society, we affirm that the Venezuelan forced migratory flow must be considered as a migratory flow in need of international protection. States must ensure access to territories and asylum procedures. This cannot be what limits access to other rights associated with any process of regularization and comprehensive reception. For this reason, the Red Jesuita con Migrantes and Magis Americas, along with other allied organizations and networks, within the framework of the Donors Conference in solidarity with Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees held June 17th in Canada, provided a set of recommendations to the international community to make a turn in its political action.

Life is what is at stake, and life cannot wait.