How Latin America Is Responding to Venezuelan Refugees [article]


Following Latin American traditions of solidarity, Peru and Brazil have taken in many Venezuelans fleeing their country. Yet government responses have critical gaps, which could leave many more unprotected if Venezuela’s crisis escalates. Article written by Helisane Mahlke (PhD), Nicolas Parent (MSc) and Lilian Yamamoto (PhD).


The article can be read online on Refugees Deeply (November 28, 2017).


Falling short of protection: Peru’s new migration scheme for Venezuelans [article]


The article can be read online on the Forced Migration Review website (issue 56, September 2017), or can be viewed and downloaded here.

Full Text


Peru’s introduction of a new work and study permit for Venezuelans fleeing violence in their country is to be applauded – but it provides only a limited, temporary form of protection.

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. However, after multiple visits to the migration office and numerous telephone conversations with UNHCR staff members (who were unclear about the overlap between the PTP and Peru’s asylum legislation), she – like José – had to accept the PTP as her only option.

Implementation falling behind international standards

Latin America is widely recognised for having developed some of the most innovative protection mechanisms for forced migrants. At the forefront has been the 1984 Cartagena Declaration, setting the stage for a multitude of regional dialogues focused on international protection. However, it is also critical to acknowledge that these declarations, plans of action, recommendations and conclusions are largely non-binding, and that in Latin America “most of the existing refugee status determination bodies still lack the training, efficiency, independence, and expertise that are to be found in other parts of the world.”[6] Furthermore, since the end of the 1990s Latin American governments have devised asylum legislation at the national level but these instruments tend to “fall short of international standards in terms of duration and scope of protection [and] lack important refugee rights such as the right to access fair and efficient refugee status determination procedures.”[7]

Peru is not exempt from these realities and although the PTP has allowed many Venezuelans to gain safety, there needs to be a debate about whether or not it is meeting its responsibilities towards those Venezuelans whose cases should rather be decided through a proper refugee status determination process. Considering that the 1984 Cartagena Declaration expands the definition of what constitutes a refugee, extending this status to those fleeing their country due to “generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order”,[8] the abundant evidence on Venezuela’s conflict shows that those fleeing have a legitimate claim to apply for international protection. Having incorporated the expanded refugee definition within its national legislation, Peru has a formal responsibility towards facilitating this process. In practice, the PTP can contribute to Peru potentially circumventing this responsibility as Venezuelan migrants are likely to be assessed on a prima facie basis, leaving them misinformed about other protection schemes available under Peruvian law.

While Peru receives praise for hosting Venezuelans, it must be understood that the PTP is not a protection instrument guaranteeing a breadth of rights. On paper, it is simply a residence permit allowing Venezuelans to work and study for a period of one year and, although this may be suitable for some applicants, it is not appropriate for those who have fled their country because their lives, safety and freedom are threatened. Peru’s PTP should therefore not be viewed as the new standard for protecting those fleeing crisis, conflict and violence within Latin America as this would risk propagating a discourse and practice based on generosity and goodwill rather than one based on rights.


[1] Human Rights Watch (2017) ‘Venezuela: Humanitarian crisis spilling into Brazil’

[2] Decreto Supremo Nº 002-2017-IN

[4] ‘Gobierno evalúa ampliar plazo para entrega de PTP a venezolanos’, El Comercio, 25th July 2017

[6] Fischel De Andrade J (2014) ‘Forced migration in South America’ in Fiddian-Qasmiyeh E, Loescher G, Long K and Sigona N (Eds) The Oxford Handbook of Refugee & Forced Migration Studies, Oxford University Press, pp651-663

[7] Gottwald M (2003) ‘Protecting Colombian refugees in the Andean region: the fight against invisibility’ UNHCR Working Paper No 81

Blame avoidance and worldviews: Explaining the recurrence of socio-cultural disasters within Aboriginal communities in Canada


This paper proposes that what Aboriginal communities in Canada have faced since colonisation are a series of socio-cultural disasters, and discusses reasons for the recurrence of disasters within Aboriginal communities. Using Toft and Reynolds’ (2005) theory of active and isomorphic learning, as well as Hood’s (2002; 2011) theory of blame, this paper suggests that both blame avoidance and the perpetuation of world-view adherences on behalf of the Canadian government are responsible for the continuation of calamitous events within Aboriginal communities across Canada. Both the Indian Residential School (IRS) system and contemporary findings on missing and murdered Aboriginal women are discussed at length within this paper.


The article can be read in the Canadian Journal of Native Studies (vol. 37, no. 1), or can be viewed and downloaded here.

A year of impunity: A one year visual database of migration-related human rights abuses [report]


After collecting over 300 reports throughout the last year, curating our mapping platform and analyzing collected data, OHRFMT releases its final report.

Executive summary


The following report (download here), entitled A year of impunity: A one year visual database of migration-related human rights abuses, was prepared by the Observatory for Human Rights and Forced Migrants in Turkey (OHRFMT) and released in July 2017.

The main findings of this report are as follows:

  • OHRFMT concludes that reports relating to readmission back to Turkey from the EU were highly inconsistent and under reported, often with large time gaps between them. Furthermore, content of reports failed to indicate the fate of those sent back to Turkey.
  • In reports relating to arrests, OHRFMT recorded a total of 322 arrests from 42 different countries. This showed the demographic breadth of Turkey’s migrant population. Most arrests took place in coastal areas or following interception at sea. In the case of the latter, the Observatory is concerned about the legal grounding of arrests at sea and the high possibility of ‘push backs’ of which are in breach of the concept of non-refoulement.
  • Whilst processing report data, OHRFMT found that there was consistently a correlation between discrimination and issues relating to problems in accessing goods and services guaranteed by various human rights instruments. It found that in the majority of cases, refugees were not able to access, for instance, educational or health facilities due to their unclear status within Turkey.
  • OHRFMT found that in reports relating to abuse / exploitation, those individuals within the vulnerable sector most often became the targets to acts of violence and physical or sexual exploitation. Children were the primary victims, but findings showed that abuse and exploitation was also gendered, with young girls and women taking up the second largest target demographic. Data showed that in 51% of the reports, the identity of the perpetrator was either unknown or unspecified. OHRFMT is concerned that state authorities are not holding perpetrators accountable and/or undertaking adequate investigations on these serious acts.
  • In reports relating to loss of life, OHRFMT determined that most deaths occurred in transit areas, either within the Aegean Sea or at Turkey’s eastern border. OHRFMT would like to underline the responsibility that Turkey has towards providing safe passage for all.

As a result of these findings, the following recommendations have been made.

  • OHRFMT recommends that a database of returns to Turkey be made publicly available.
  • OHRFMT would like to remind Turkey of its responsibility towards to principle of non-refoulement and asks that refugees intercepted in transit zones and currently in detention / processing facilities be made accessible to lawyers.
  • OHRFMT recommends that Turkey suspend its geographic limitation to the 1951 Refugee Convention and allow all forced migrants within its national borders to apply for formal refugee status.
  • As collected reports have repeatedly shown that children, girls and women make up the majority of victims of discrimination, abuse and exploitation, OHRFMT reminds Turkey that it has a responsibility to protect those within the vulnerable sector.
  • OHRFMT recommends that Turkey take affirmative action to provide safe passage to all who wish to transit through its territory and do all it can to preserve the right to life of those transient refugees.

OHRFMT believes that the vast majority of those mentioned in collected reports should have access to a formal asylum process to make a claim for refugee status. As a result, you will find that the Observatory often refers to forced migrants within Turkey as ‘refugees’ albeit these individuals not having formal Convention Refugee status. This is intentional, not a mistake.

New media and migrant solidarity [slides + video]


Using cellphones, social media application and application-based communication tools, forced migrants have been able to organise, coordinate their movements and communicate with family and friends. Activism, notably migrant solidarity work, has benefited from these same tools. Arguably, it’s no secret that new media has defined many elements of contemporary activism and advocacy.  Data can now be fluidly organised and illustrated, multiple people can be digital contributors to projects and campaigns, and information on forced migration trends is easier to access than ever before.


In early October 2016, the Migrant Solidarity Network, based in Istanbul, asked me to prepare a presentation on how new media can strengthen migrant solidarity. In one hour, the presentation covered the history of social media, its role in activism and an overview of past and present projects that use new media to conduct advocacy.

Slides for the presentation can be viewed and downloaded here.

You can view the presentation below, or by following this link.