Legal Status, Access to Healthcare, and Unstable Jobs: The Challenges of Venezuelan Migrants in Aruba

BY Yakary Prado Romero

Published on March 18, 2021, Crónicas del Caribe.

During 2020, the number of people who came to register with HIAS Aruba increased exponentially. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, founded in 1881, is a non-profit organization established on the island in 2019. It focuses on protection and counselling of migrants, refugees and vulnerable populations.

IN 2019, about 700 people registered with this NGO; the new client registry in the 2000 pandemic year came closer to 2,000, according to Yiftach Millo, executive director of HIAS Aruba, in an interview with Crónicas del Caribe.

Quarantine and confinement around the world designed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus had an impact on the mental health of citizens, which in turn led to an increase in gender and intra-family violence, also in Aruba.

This could be one of the reasons that explain the increase in people requesting support from HIAS Aruba. Among other activities, this NGO provides assistance and works on the prevention and response to gender-based violence, helping women and girls, victims of sexual assault and/or human trafficking.

The NGO fights against gender based violence and offers services to integrate migrants

HIAS Aruba’s humanitarian activity is extensive. It offers protection services, psychological support and mental health support, referrals to other services such as legal advice and training for entrepreneurship in areas such as digital marketing.

It also runs socio-economic support programs and offer language courses to facilitate the integration of immigrants into their communities and into the marketplace.

Among its target audience, the Venezuelan community residing on the island. The largest community which is estimated to include up to 22,000 people, according to the 2020 yearend projection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Venezuelan migrants on the island face difficult challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has accentuated. In its mid-2020 report, updated in November, an NGO by the name of Response for Venezuelans, the local coordination platform for refugees and migrants from that South American country, reported that as a result of coronavirus restrictions, many Venezuelans have been forced to resort to dangerous boat trips to the island, and were more exposed to human trafficking besides the risks at sea.

Legal and economic uncertainty

The unusual year 2020 represented an economic challenge for the entire island of Aruba. Immigrants, who often work temporary jobs, ended up being the worst hit when the country’s economic activity halted.

The return to normality still looks quite distant, although the island has already completed a first phase of vaccination against covid19. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Aruba as an unsafe destination to travel to due to the Covid19 pandemic, in its most recent update on March 4th. For an island that relies almost exclusively on American tourists, this was a hard blow.

Hundreds of Venezuelans on the island have had and will have to face a reality that limits their economic income and, therefore, the attention to their basic needs, those that drove them to leave behind a country sunk in hyperinflation and a complex humanitarian crisis.

According to Response for Venezuelans, R4V, legal status is the main concern of Venezuelans in Aruba, since it deals a domino effect on all aspects of their daily lives and prevents them from accessing what is rightfully theirs: Employment, healthcare and education. This makes them more vulnerable to trafficking, abuse and exploitation.

Although they are more exposed to risks of employer exploitation, partner abuse and rights violations, Venezuelans also hesitate to present their complaints to the authorities for fear of being detained and deported due to their irregular situation.

The platform highlights that in Aruba the majority of Venezuelans work in the informal sector, which is why the pandemic increased the already deep concern about the unpredictability of their economic power, reduced income and the lack of possibilities of family reunification or even contact with other loved ones who were left behind in Venezuela.

Returning to pre-pandemic normality will probably not be possible until the end of 2021 and perhaps even further, which is why HIAS Aruba focuses on identifying Venezuelan job integration opportunities, in sectors currently operational, and in parts of the economy about to be reactivated including freelance jobs on line.

 Health, engine of entry and exit

Access to healthcare is one of the principal challenges for Venezuelans fleeing to Aruba, just 25K kilometers north of the deeply-in-crisis Venezuelan peninsula of Paraguaná.

The Venezuelan immigrants in Aruba faces a disturbing dilemma: They are fleeing a country where it takes four minimum wages to buy, for example, a box of high blood pressure control pills. But they reached another country in which the national nature of the healthcare system makes it impossible to obtain the healthcare they require.

 

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March 27, 2021
Rona Coster