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R4V Response for Venezuelans – Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela: Central America and Mexico Situation Report – April 2020

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The Government of Costa Rica (GoCR) has continued to impose travel restrictions and border closure, in response to COVID-19, with measures extended until 15 June. Entry is permitted only for nationals and residents who must comply with a 14-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival. Foreigners with legal status have no option to re-enter the country, if they depart. Border rejections and subsequent responses may place Venezuelan refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants at risk.

The Immigration Authority has automatically extended the validity of identification documents and work permits for asylum seekers and refugees, and enabled an online work permit application system for asylum seekers. New directives on access to asylum, issued on 24 April, require all asylum seekers to lodge their claims at the border. Those who entered the country prior the 18 March border closure who may submit their application via email showing proof of date of entry to Costa Rica. These new directives might pose additional challenges to asylum seekers, and further extend the waiting times and the backlog of cases (25,913 as of 1 April 2020). Those awaiting documentation do not have access to healthcare services, beyond life-saving emergencies or COVID-19 treatment; regular medical attention is a paramount, particularly for those in at-risk groups.

Social distancing protocols and public health restrictions have resulted in many Venezuelans losing their jobs, affecting their livelihoods and ability to meet their basic needs. As a result, requests for food security and shelter are growing rapidly. Refugees, asylum seekers report that they are unable to access the GoCR’s national assistance program “Bono Proteger” providing unemployment and under-employment cash assistance. Advocacy efforts continue for the inclusion of these groups in the COVID-19 relief programs.

In Mexico, airports and borders have remained open with a significant reduction in transit due to other countries’ travel restrictions. As of 30 April 2020, Ministry of Health has confirmed the number of COVD-19 cases as 19,224, with a death toll of 1,859. Immigration authorities, as of 26 April, began releasing the population from detention centers, in efforts to reduce spread of the virus. On 30 April, Ministry of Foreign Affairs released an agreement extending the suspension of several activities due to COVID-19, including the reception of naturalization processes until May 30th. Similarly, the suspension of Refugee Status Determination (RSD) procedures has severely affected Venezuelan asylum-seekers waiting for a RSD decision, delaying the possibility of obtaining migratory documentation (permanent residency permits). As a result of COVID-19 and the measures in place to prevent the spread, there has been increase in Venezuelans requesting assistance, mainly in Mexico City and Monterrey.

The Government of Panama has extended the general curfew, prohibited power cuts, and businesses remain closed as the State of Emergency continues. Over the month of April, cases of COVID-19 infections have continued to increase from 1,317 to 6,532, and death toll from 32 to 188. Evictions are prohibited during the state of emergency and a complaints mechanism has been established for families forced to vacate their homes. The National Immigration Service has extended the validity of residence permits until 15 May and the Ministry of Labor has extended the validity of the work permits until 30 May. Likewise, validity of asylum seekers IDs has been extended to mid-May for all the documents that expired in March and April. The suspension of all international flights has been extended for 30 days from 22 April. Humanitarian flights and those necessary for the transport of products and public health supplies are excepted. A group of 320 Venezuelan people have reported being stranded in Panama due to air restrictions. They requested support to return to Venezuela on humanitarian flights.

The Venezuelan population is affected due to the restrictions. Overall, the need for food, health and safe housing are significantly increasing and the Government´s "Plan Panamá Solidario" is based on the discretion of people in charge in the distribution zones, although some asylum seekers, refugees and migrants have reported receiving food bags and vouchers. Over than 91,000 employment contracts were suspended, with the authorization of the temporary suspension of employment contracts automatically extended for another 30 days. Home delivery workers have announced work stoppage demanding better pay and working conditions. Many Venezuelan population is working under this modality.