Aruba, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago, started lifting government-imposed restrictions previously enforced to curb the spread of COVID-19. With the exception of the Dominican Republic, which confirmed 17,285 positive cases by the end of the month, the number of new positive COVID-19 cases significantly reduced in the rest of the sub-region. There was one imported COVID-19 case in Trinidad and Tobago and no active cases in Aruba by the end of May. Movement restrictions were partially lifted in all countries, schools in Curaçao partially re-opened and curfew hours were reduced.
Amid these initial reopening phases, many Venezuelan refugees and asylum-seekers returned to the informal trade labor but remained in a state of heightened vulnerability. In some instances, Venezuelans had trouble getting their former jobs back as public health measures and controls became stricter. Many do not have money to pay for basic needs such as food, health and hygiene products while others confront threats of eviction and homelessness.
In Trinidad & Tobago, Police reported the murder of three Venezuelans, including a registered Venezuelan asylum seeker, in what they described to be a drug-related incident. Negative press coverage remains a concern for R4V partners. Despite an adverse environment, Venezuelans continued to try to reach Trinidad and Tobago.
In a press conference that was launched in May, authorities reported that 32 Venezuelan nationals were returned to Venezuela on 24 May after being rescued from their sinking vessel when attempting to enter the twin island country.
Stricter measures remained in place in Guyana. As COVID-19 cases reached a total of 153 by the end of the month and spread across the country to remote regions where resources are very limited, emergency measures were heightened. Region 4 became the epicenter, with containment efforts focused there while region 9 remained under scrutiny as it borders Brazil, a country with extremely high numbers of COVID-19 cases. Although borders remained closed, irregular entries continued, particularly in the porous bordering areas in Regions 1 and 9. This created difficulties in monitoring the influx as well as in identifying and containing COVID-19 cases.
Additionally, May brought continued reports from sex workers facing evicƟons or being at-risk of eviction due to job loss. This situation increased their vulnerability to becoming victims of human trafficking, exploitation and GBV. Due to COVID-19 reduced staff rotation, the authorities experienced diminished capacity in detecting and responding to reports of trafficking. On the political front, the recount of the vote cast during the 2 March general and regional elections continued throughout May 2020, with the presence of a CARICOM electoral observation mission. Initially set for a period of 25 days, the recount was extended to June, then further extended to July, posing coordinaƟon and planning challenges for R4V partners.
Some refugees and migrants approached partners throughout the subregion to enquire about potential support to return to their country of origin, reflecting the dire situation in which they have been living over the past months due to the pandemic. In Aruba, two return flights scheduled on 8 and 11 May were cancelled because Las Piedras airport in Falcón State (Western Venezuela) was not adequately prepared to receive passengers during the COVID -19 pandemic according to Venezuelan authorities. The 400 Venezuelan individuals who registered on the Ministry of Integration Website (DIMAS) in April requesting assistance to return to Venezuela, have not returned to Venezuela yet. Aruban authorities informed that the cost of 300 USD would be borne by passengers and that a reentry ban with a duration depending on the time spent undocumented would apply. Returns are still pending clearance from Venezuela. R4V partners were also informed that the Government of Curaçao intended to deport Venezuelans held in immigration detention to their country of origin. The closure of borders with Venezuela, however, suspended the resumption of deportation.
On 13 May, the Governor of Aruba conducted a visit to the women's shelter, concerned about reports of increased domestic violence cases resulting from stay-at-home measures. During the visit, much needed interventions conducted by the centre for the care of vulnerable women and children in Aruba was discussed. The Netherlands granted a subsidy package to the government to expand the reception from fifteen to almost forty Venezuelan migrant women GBV survivors.
The Kingdom of Netherlands’ Council of Ministers approved the allocation of funding for food and hygiene packages for those most in need in Curaçao; the Government of the Netherlands asked an R4V partner to coordinate the humanitarian response across Curaçao and other Dutch islands. The Government announced that commercial and passenger inbound flights from the Netherlands and BES islands (Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba) would be allowed entry as of July. The partial reopening of borders came as a result of having only 4 active cases of the Covid-19 virus on Curaçao by the end of May.
Representatives across the Caribbean ammended the Pledging Conference in solidarity with Venezuelan refugees and migrants on 26 May, co-organized by the EU, Spain, Canada and Norway with the support of UNHCR and IOM. This online conference addressed the donor community and confirmed their commiƩed support in the search of solutions for refugees and migrants from Venezuela in the region.