The International Rescue Committee (IRC) responds to recent reports of the current U.S. Administration starting flights to expel Venezuelan asylum seekers to Colombia.

Challenging living conditions in Venezuela—including hunger caused by economic meltdown, the effects of COVID-19, and displacement forced by violence perpetrated by non-state armed actors—have caused the second-largest external displacement crisis in the world, just after Syria. To date, approximately 6 million people have left the country, with Colombia becoming the main host for more than 1.8 million Venezuelans, followed by other Latin American countries, like Peru or Ecuador. 

Although most Venezuelans search for safety in neighboring countries first, more than 350,000 have come to the U.S. in search of protection since 2014.

Olga Byrne, Director of Immigration for the IRC said:

“We regret the news about this measure to continue expelling asylum seekers who are searching for safety in the United States; now taking a further step to send Venezuelans to Colombia. Despite commitments announced by the U.S. Administration in the first 100 days, harmful policies like Title 42 are still in place more than one year after taking office. Title 42 expulsions deprive asylum seekers of due process, instead sending them back to dangerous conditions, similar if not worse to those they escaped. In certain cases, they send them to third countries, like Colombia, that for years have stepped up to welcome Venezuelan asylum seekers, despite overstretched national systems and insufficient support and funding from the international community.

“Under international and domestic law, people in need of protection have the legal right to seek asylum in the U.S., even during a pandemic and considering that public health experts have questioned the efficacy of Title 42 as a measure to contain COVID-19. Additionally, the Administration often raises its voice in support of asylum seekers and refugees around the world. We encourage policy makers to match that rhetoric with actions that would protect the rights of asylum seekers to seek safety within its borders, as well.

“The IRC has long advocated for the termination of harmful policies that block access to asylum, as well as for a protection-centered and community-based humanitarian reception program that ensures asylum-seekers receive a dignified welcome; provides them with the resources they need to be safe and well as they await the adjudication of their claims for safety; and equips them with the legal support they need to ensure that they are knowledgeable about their claim.”

In addition to a humanitarian reception program in the U.S., the IRC has called for actions to address the crises that are driving displacement from and across Latin America, including:

The IRC identified Venezuela as one of the top 20 countries worldwide most at risk of experiencing a deterioration in their humanitarian situations in 2022. More information about the challenges for Venezuelans over the year ahead is available in the 2022 Emergency Watchlist

The IRC’s work

The IRC has provided responsive humanitarian services to asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border since 2019 as part of a broader response along the region. Among its services, the IRC provides case management, humanitarian reception, and legal assistance to tens of thousands of asylum seekers, unaccompanied children and other people seeking protection in the U.S. each year. The IRC has also strongly advocated for the restoration of access to the asylum system at the U.S. southern border including through rescission of Title 42 and termination of Remain in Mexico.

In Latin America, the IRC is responding across the arc of the crisis: delivering a population-based response to the Venezuela crisis in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and through local partners in Venezuela; supporting vulnerable people in northern Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) and along the main migration corridors in Mexico, from the southern to the northern borders. After the earthquake that hit Haiti in August 2021, the IRC provided funding to support the work of local organizations implementing activities to satisfy priority needs.

The IRC’s current Latin America programming includes supporting women’s protection and empowerment, incorporating prevention and protection of women, girls and members of the LGBTQ+ community who have been survivors of gender-based violence; economic recovery and development; primary, sexual and reproductive health; mental health and psychosocial support; cultural orientation; and access to critical information through InfoPa’lante in Colombia, CuéntaNos in northern Central America and InfoDigna in Mexico, all of them part of the Global Signpost project.