Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado
Date: 15 December 2020
We are extremely saddened by the news that at least 21 Venezuelans who had attempted to reach Trinidad and Tobago died when their boat capsized off the coast of Venezuela. Search and rescue operations have been continuing amid fears that others may still be missing.
This represents one of the biggest single losses of life involving Venezuelan refugees and migrants trying to cross the sea to Trinidad and Tobago, which at its narrowest point is only some 15km from Venezuela.
According to the Venezuelan authorities, 21 bodies were found over the weekend in the waters off the town of Güiria in the Venezuelan state of Sucre. So far, the authorities have identified 19 victims, among them four children. According to information we have received, the boat in question is said to have left Güiria en route to Trinidad and Tobago on 6 December.
We echo calls by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration for urgent efforts to stop smugglers and human traffickers sending refugees and migrants on dangerous sea journeys.
We also urge the Venezuelan and Trinidad and Tobago authorities to coordinate and cooperate to protect the lives and safety of migrants and refugees, including by operating effective search and rescue at sea and by promptly, effectively, thoroughly, and transparently investigating this tragic incident. It is also extremely important for the two Governments to coordinate and cooperate regarding safe migration routes.
Last month we raised concerns over the deportation of 25 Venezuelans, among them 16 children, from Trinidad and Tobago as a legal application was being lodged against their removal. The group spent a couple of days at sea before ending up back in Trinidad and Tobago.
We once again call on governments to halt push-backs at sea in violations of the principle of non-refoulement and the prohibition of collective expulsions and to suspend all forced returns amid the COVID-19 pandemic to safeguard the health of migrants and communities. We encourage governments to instead provide safe and legal pathways for migrants to regularize their status and avoid the risk of deportation.
Pathways for admission and stay should be consistent with international human rights law and humanitarian considerations and include access to due process and procedural safeguards.
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