Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Falling Short of Protection: Peru's New Migration Scheme for Venezuelans

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Falling Short of Protection: Peru's New Migration Scheme for Venezuelans

Article excerpt

State repression, looting and civil violence have left Venezuelans in a state of uneasiness and fear, with the erosion of the country's socio-political stability further exacerbated by shortages of food and medicine, crippling inflation and a dramatic devaluation of the Venezuelan currency. With each passing day, as the situation deteriorates, the applicability to Venezuelans of the international definition of refugee becomes increasingly justifiable.

In addition to both the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, to which the vast majority of Latin American countries are signatories, the continent has demonstrated a coordinated effort to strengthen its regional framework for the forcibly displaced. The Cartagena Declaration in 1984, the 1994 San José Declaration, the 2004 Mexico Declaration and the 2014 Brazil Declaration all serve as testaments to a commitment to protecting those with well-founded fear of persecution. The response to those fleeing Venezuela, however, exemplifies how much there remains to achieve, particularly in terms of the implementation of these instruments. For instance, despite receiving 4,670 requests for asylum from Venezuelans between 2012 and 2016, Brazil's Ministry of Justice has only assessed a total of 89 applications.1 For those wanting to flee to Colombia, a different challenge arises, where regular border closures and violence in its eastern region have impeded Venezuelans from seeking asylum.

Protection options

Of all Latin American countries hosting Venezuelans, Peru merits recognition for its new temporary work/study permit scheme. The Permiso Temporal de Permanencia (PTP)2 is a work and study permit provided exclusively to Venezuelan citizens for a period of one year, with the possibility of renewal. The new programme has been praised by the international community, including by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which has called it "an example for the region of how States can protect migrants who are in a vulnerable situation by regularizing migration."3 According to Eduardo Sevilla Echevarría, Superintendent of Migration, over 10,000 Venezuelans have been approved for the PTP as of late July 2017.4

However, it appears that migration officials may be promoting the PTP in place of providing information about other more durable and wider-ranging protection pathways. This was the case for José, a former business owner in Venezuela. When passing through border control at the airport in Lima, José notified the migration officer that he wished to apply for asylum but "they said I was only eligible for the PTP." Considering that Peru has national asylum legislation dating back to 2003,5 it is surprising that Lima's migration office failed to provide adequate information about asylum procedures.

Testimonials from applicants and beneficiaries around Lima suggest that José is not the only Venezuelan being misinformed on their right to seek asylum. When María applied for the PTP, she noticed that it did not explicitly guarantee access to certain rights that would normally be accorded to refugees. "I fled from an area with heavy violence in Venezuela and I was aware that, with the expanded refugee definition found in the Cartagena Declaration, I would probably be eligible for refugee status," María explained, adding that she did not necessarily want to receive formal refugee status but rather wanted to have a legal guarantee that she and her children would have access to health facilities and basic assistance. …

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