All Sub-regional R4V countries stepped up measures to deal with the latest waves of the COVID-19 pandemic which led to continued job loss and reduced access to basic needs among refugees and migrants, who are in dire need of financial support, shelter, safe accommodation and food security. In Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, this was evidenced through a 36 per cent increase in Cash Based Interventions related queries to one partner’s hotlines, and a 170 percent increase in the number of CBI applications made for the month, compared with August.
Although borders with South American countries remain closed, Aruba, Curaçao and the Dominican Republic opened air borders to travelers and tourists in September. Deportations continued from Trinidad and Tobago, and repatriation flights for Venezuelans started across the sub-region, in coordination with Venezuelan authorities.
Aruba doubled the number of COVID-19 cases reaching 3963 cases and 27 deaths. Curaçao saw a surge to 392 total COVID-19 infections, Trinidad and Tobago tripled the number of cases to reach 4531 cases and 76 deaths. In Guyana, the virus spread to all 10 regions with 2894 cases and 80 deaths, and the Dominican Republic stood out at 112,209 cases with 2105 deaths at the end of September. In Aruba and Curacao, schools re-opened on a shift system basis, observing hygiene protocols, while classes in Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana resumed via remote modalities. In the Dominican Republic, teachers received training to facilitate upcoming virtual classes.
In a commendable effort, the Government of Aruba continued to provide aid for refugees and migrants also in irregular work. One partner indicated that thus far 152.4 million Aruban florins (84,668,000 USD) have been supplied in subsidies, mainly contributing to food aid. However, in Curaçao the Dutch Red Cross indicated intention to stop issuing vouchers due to a depletion of funds provided by the Dutch Government. Bi-weekly top-ups of the vouchers would continue until October 6 pending further discussions. In Curaçao, a boat was intercepted by the Coast Guard on the night of 9 September, with 43 Venezuelans on board, who were detained (including one child).
In the Dominican Republic, the President asked the constitutional court to declare inadmissible a direct action of unconstitutionality filed against Decree 262-20 which granted Dominican nationality through naturalization. The Decree was approved in February 2020 and granted naturalization to 750 people including Venezuelans. Separately, the president assured that a humanitarian solution is being formulated for Venezuelan refugees and migrants.
Guyana partners underscored the particularly limited access to health care, water and sanitation in the country and worry that lack of funds will also increase the vulnerabilities of refugees and migrants to Gender Based Violence (GBV), Trafficking, Sexual and Labour Exploitation.
In Trinidad and Tobago, 93 Venezuelan refugees and migrants who had entered irregularly by boat were deported on 18 September and 13 more were detained on 27 September for illegal entry into the country, including five children, and a three-month-old baby. On 13 September, a number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants were rescued by fishermen after their boat overturned. Additionally, 40 Venezuelan nationals arrived by boat on a remote shoreline of the island. Furthermore, a young Venezuelan woman was reportedly murdered by her partner, highlighting the risks of Gender Based Violence faced by Venezuelan women. Separately, David Smolansky, Commissioner of the General Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS) for the Venezuelan crisis, urged the authorities to take more forceful actions with regard to the prevention of crimes and discrimination against Venezuelans.