GENEVA, Switzerland – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in a joint press release said they, “are deeply saddened by the latest loss of at least two lives after a boat capsized off Venezuela’s shores on Thursday 22 April.”
According to Venezuelan authorities, at least 24 people including several children are believed to have been on board the boat heading towards the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Seven people were rescued by commercial Venezuelan vessels, and two bodies have so far been recovered, while rescue operations are ongoing to find other survivors among the 15 Venezuelans that are still unaccounted for according to authorities.
“The waters of the Caribbean Sea continue to claim the lives of Venezuelans,” said Eduardo Stein, Joint Special Representative of UNHCR and IOM for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants. “As the conditions in the country continue to deteriorate – all worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic – people continue to undertake life-threatening journeys.”
This is the latest of several incidents involving the capsizing of boats carrying Venezuelan refugees and migrants towards Caribbean islands, the most recent reported near the Venezuelan city of Guiria in December last year.
There are over five million Venezuelan refugees and migrants around the world, 200,000 of whom are estimated to be hosted in the Caribbean.
With land and maritime borders still closed to limit COVID-19 transmission, these journeys take place mainly through irregular routes, heightening the dangers as well as health and protection risks.
“Shipwrecks, tragic deaths at border crossings and further suffering are avoidable, but only if immediate and concerted international action is mobilized to find pragmatic solutions that put saving lives and protecting human rights at the forefront of any response,” added Stein.
“The establishment of regular and safe pathways, including through humanitarian visas and family reunification, as well as the implementation of protection-sensitive entry systems and adequate reception mechanisms, can prevent the use of irregular routes, smuggling and trafficking.”
Both UNHCR and IOM reiterated their readiness to lend support and technical expertise in exploring practical solutions to provide regular pathways that also take into account COVID-19 prevention measures.
The UN agencies are co-leaders of the Interagency Coordination Platform for refugees and migrants from Venezuela (R4V), work with at least 24 other partners and governments across the Caribbean to meet the needs of refugees and migrants in the sub-region.