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Deadly shipwreck off Venezuela underscores need for safe migration pathways, protection

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, expressed deep sadness over the deaths of two people after a boat capsized off the coast of Venezuela last Thursday while heading towards Trinidad and Tobago. 

At least 24 people were on board, according to local authorities.  While commercial Venezuelan vessels rescued seven people, operations are ongoing to find survivors among the 15 others who remain unaccounted for. 

Situation worsened by COVID-19 

“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.”   

There are over five million Venezuelan refugees and migrants around the world, and it is estimated that 200,000 are being hosted in the Caribbean. 

The tragedy is the latest of several incidents involving the capsizing of boats carrying Venezuelan refugees and migrants towards Caribbean islands.  The most recent was reported near the Venezuelan city of Guiria in December 2020.   

With land and maritime borders still closed to limit coronavirus transmission, the UN agencies said such journeys are taking place along irregular routes, thus heightening the danger as well as health and protection risks. 

Establish safe pathways 

“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”, Mr Stein said.   

“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 have underlined their readiness to provide support and technical expertise towards these measures. 

The UN agencies are co-leaders of a platform that coordinates the work of at least 24 partners and governments across the Caribbean to meet the needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela in the sub-region.

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