Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers Commends Venezuela’s Ratification of Labour Instruments and Asks about the Repatriation and Return of Venezuelan Migrant Workers
The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families this afternoon concluded its consideration of the initial report of Venezuela on measures taken to implement the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, with Committee Experts commending the State’s ratification of labour instruments, while asking questions about the repatriation of Venezuelan migrant workers, notably Venezuela’s Return to the Homeland Plan.
A Committee Expert noted that Venezuela had ratified all the fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organization, which was important and praiseworthy. A Committee Expert asked what public policy had been adopted in terms of the Return to the Homeland Plan? Could more information be provided about people who had returned under the Plan? Had they been able to reintegrate and adapt? How many people had benefitted from the Return to the Homeland Plan? What was the real content of the programme?
In opening remarks, Francisco Torrealba, Minister of People’s Power for the Social Process of Labour and head of the delegation, said that in recent years there had been an increase in outward migratory flows to countries in the region, in many cases to neighbouring countries. It was important to understand that that was an induced migration process, and was the direct result of a policy of aggression, which sought to destroy the peace and economic stability of the country and overthrow the Government which had been elected by the majority of Venezuelans. Illegal unilateral coercive measures had a disastrous impact on Venezuelan society, and on the guarantee of fundamental rights. The "Plan Vuelta a la Patria,” or “Return to the Homeland Plan” saw the voluntary and dignified return of thousands of nationals. Many of them had returned by air through the national airline, rescuing them from violations of their fundamental rights including xenophobia, discrimination, and social exclusion.
In response to questions, the delegation explained that the Return to the Homeland Plan was a way for Venezuelans to return to their country at no cost. Over 29,000 Venezuelans had returned to the territory of their homeland and been able to enter the Government’s social protection system. A whole series of social structures were offered by the State of Venezuela to ensure those people’s reintegration, ensuring they were covered by social protection processes. The unilateral coercive measures had an impact on the human rights of women. There were single mothers who had to migrate due to those measures. Over 60 per cent of those who had returned to Venezuela via the Return to the Homeland Plan were women. The Return to the Homeland Plan had many goals, one being to rescue Venezuelans who found themselves in such economic situations that they needed to return to Venezuela. The Plan had no international support, despite that being requested. It was a programme for return and repatriation that was voluntary and should be recognised as a best practice. When that population returned to the country, they automatically re-joined their previous life.
In concluding remarks, Pablo César Garcia Saenz, Committee Rapporteur and country co-rapporteur for Venezuela, thanked Venezuela for the high level of their delegation, which demonstrated the interest the State had in the Committee.
Edgar Corzo Sosa, Committee Chair and country co-rapporteur for Venezuela, thanked the delegation for its participation, noting that the dialogue was a matter of exchanging information to determine how to benefit people in situations of migration.
Mr. Torrealba underlined Venezuela’s interest in working with the Committee to continue to improve the rights of migrant workers in the country.
The delegation of Venezuela was comprised of representatives of the Ministry of People’s Power of the Social Work Process; the Ministry of Popular Power for Internal Relations, Justice and Peace; the Ministry of Power People’s Planning; the National Assembly; the Ministry of Popular Power for Penitentiary Services; the Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Relations; the Ministry of Popular Power for Defence; the Ministry of Popular Power for Women and Gender Equality; the Supreme Court of Justice; the International Human Rights System; the National Institute for the Rights of Children and Adolescents; the Office of the Presidency of the National Assembly; the Council National Electoral; the Public Ministry; and the Permanent Mission of Venezuela to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The webcast of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families thirty-fifth session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. tomorrow to consider the combined second and third periodic report of Syria (CMW/C/SYR/2-3).
The Committee has before it the initial report of Venezuela (CMW/C/VEN/1).
Presentation of the Report
FRANCISCO TORREALBA, Minister of People’s Power for the Social Process of Labour and head of the delegation, said his country’s migration policy was based on principles of tolerance, social inclusion, solidarity and justice. Under that conception, the Government had built the integration of migrants and their families into a fundamental part of the social structure of the country. Venezuela recognised the contribution of those millions of migrant workers and their families to the growth and development of the country. In recent years there had been an increase in outward migratory flows to countries in the region, in many cases to neighbouring countries. It was important to understand that that was an induced migration process, and was the direct result of a policy of aggression, which sought to destroy the peace and economic stability of the country and overthrow the Government which had been elected by the majority of Venezuelans. Illegal unilateral coercive measures had a disastrous impact on Venezuelan society, and on the guarantee of fundamental rights.
In addition to the complex situation in the country, the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted all areas of life, including work. Since mid-2021 and so far in 2022, Venezuela had seen economic recovery. Recovery plans for the economy allowed for an increase in the scope of inclusive social policies toward all sectors of the country, including migrants and the Venezuelan community abroad. Throughout its history, Venezuela had never used the millions of migrants present in the country to advance political interests, for propaganda purposes or to beg for financial resources. Nor had it promoted campaigns of xenophobia or hatred against foreign migrants in Venezuela, as other countries had done against Venezuelan migrants. The Government had made efforts to overcome obstacles, which had resulted in hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans returning home voluntarily.
The "Plan Vuelta a la Patria,” or “Return to the Homeland Plan” saw the voluntary and dignified return of thousands of nationals. Many of them had returned by air through the national airline, rescuing them from violations of their fundamental rights including xenophobia, discrimination, and social exclusion. A significant number of those people had left the country due to negative media campaigns and false propaganda for political purposes against the Venezuelan State, inducing nationals to migrate under the worst conditions.
The Venezuelan State continued to face challenges that had direct implications on human mobility and migration. The State was committed to multilateralism, to consensus, and to the union of peoples. The legislative branch had been working on the elaboration of new laws or reforms which responded to the new realities of the world of work, human mobility, and related crime. Work was also underway on a proposal to reform the Aliens and Migration Law, which dated back to 2004, to adapt to the new realities of human mobility. Mr. Torrealba concluded by reiterating the State’s commitment to making progress in overcoming challenges facing the State around the issues of migrant workers, and challenges it faced as a country of origin or transit for migrants.
Questions by Committee Experts
PABLO CÉSAR GARCIA SAENZ, Committee Rapporteur and country co-rapporteur for Venezuela, commended Venezuela for its presence before the Committee and for sending a large delegation to Geneva. Reports had been received about the complicated situation facing Venezuelans abroad when it came to obtaining passports. What was the Government doing to provide such services to them? 1,200 Venezuelan children in Colombia were about to be put up for adoption, as that Government was unable to locate their families. Did the delegation have information which could be shared about that situation? Many Venezuelans had been reported disappeared due to a route they used to leave the country; had information been received to determine what was happening to those migrants?
EDGAR CORZO SOSA, Committee Chair and country co-rapporteur for Venezuela asked for concrete figures on the number of Venezuelans living abroad, as the Committee had received different numbers. What was the Government’s position on hate speech and xenophobia within the country, and that suffered by migrants abroad? What was being done to mitigate hate speech? There was a law which had not yet been adopted on trafficking; could more information be provided on that? What was being done on the National Plan Against Trafficking in Persons? Was the National Council against Trafficking in Persons implementing legislation, and what was the intended goal of that body? The borders had become high-risk areas for migrant workers. Could information be provided about activities along the borders? Were there arrests and deportations?
A Committee Expert asked for information about migrant populations from indigenous communities. What measures were in place to protect those populations who were in situations of vulnerability throughout Latin America? What about the exploitation of migrant workers in gold-mining areas? Could the delegation provide an update on the process toward ratification of the agreement which provided access to residency in many countries in the region? What public policy had been adopted in terms of the Return to the Homeland Plan? Could more information be provided about people who had returned under that plan? Had they been able to reintegrate and adapt? Were there adequate investigations into the deaths of migrant children? Was there assistance for children who had been left behind in Venezuela when their parents migrated to other countries?
A Committee Expert said the State was undergoing a re-organization to put a data collection system into place. That was very positive, but among all the unilateral coercive measures, could one be cited which had the greatest negative impact on the situation of migrant workers? Could it be hoped that measures would be taken to mitigate the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on migrant workers in Venezuela and those in other countries? Were there difficulties in implementing the selective migration programme, and what solutions were foreseen to overcome those difficulties? It was positive that Venezuela had jurisdictions which were specialised in matters of violence against women. That was a good practice; could more information be provided on that jurisdiction? Was it run by judges who had special training on gender violence? What was the level of satisfaction when it came to the work of these jurisdictions?
A Committee Expert asked for information about immigrants to Venezuela. What was their status? Which institutions were in place to monitor them? Which institutions dealt with immigration issues? Which banking system were people using to send money to their families? Was it possible to make money transfers to other countries? To what extent were national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights involved in immigration processes?
A Committee Expert asked about the status of Venezuela’s migratory profile. Was it a host country, transitory country, or a destination country? How many people had benefitted from the Return to the Homeland Plan? What was the real content of the programme? Could information be provided about aspects of re-integration?
A Committee Expert asked for information about the reasons Venezuelans had difficulties in obtaining passports.
A Committee Expert noted that Venezuela had ratified all the fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organization, which was important and praiseworthy. The Expert had not read about any strategy to prevent child labour, noting that there was no policy to cover that vulnerable section of the population. Why had Venezuela not ratified the Labour Inspection Convention which ensured all rights were respected for all workers? Why had Venezuela not ratified the Domestic Workers Convention?
A Committee Expert asked for information about the impact of sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights. Further, it would be helpful to receive accurate statistics on the number of people who had left Venezuela. Were there estimates available of the number of foreigners residing in Venezuela?
A Committee Expert asked how the participation of Venezuelan migrants abroad was guaranteed in the country’s elections. How many people had participated in the elections?
A Committee Expert said there had been many departures before recent events; were there numbers on those who had returned to Spain or Italy? Did Venezuelan legislation allow for multiple nationalities? What was the state of research on immigration in the country?
Responses by the Delegation
Regarding the passport situation, the delegation explained that there were 105 diplomatic missions the world over which had the operative capacity to provide documents such as passports. Certain spaces were prevented from being able to provide consular services to nationals. 10 consulates in Bolivia were closed due to conflict, and the same had happened in the United States and other countries, including Canada and Brazil. The Government was ready to open 31 diplomatic missions.
The Return to the Homeland Plan was a way for Venezuelans to return to their country at no cost. Over 29,000 Venezuelans had returned to the territory of their homeland and been able to enter the Government’s social protection system. A whole series of social structures were offered by the State of Venezuela to ensure those people’s reintegration, ensuring they were covered by social protection processes.
The protection of children and adolescents involved in migratory processes was a priority for the State. Regarding the 1,200 children in Colombia who were up for adoption, that was one of the consequences of the lack of recognition of Venezuela’s offices abroad. Nationally, there was a board on migratory protection, through which the State of Venezuela assumed responsibility for family relocation and reunification with children and adolescents abroad. If children had no carers they were brought to the country through the Return to the Homeland Plan, and given to relatives. When it came to the 1,200 children, there had been no requests to locate them, but the State was open to finding information.
Venezuela had taken important steps to eradicate child labour, and within the national plan for assistance to adolescents, there was a specific programme regarding child labour which was open to all children and adolescents who were working.
Any citizen who suspected their family member had been subject to enforced disappearance could report and denounce it. Investigations were carried out wherever disappearances occurred, with colleagues from Interpol. The crime of trafficking violated human rights wherever it took place in the world. Venezuela wanted to work on preventative measures.
Venezuela guaranteed migrants the right to communication, medical assistance, food, interpretation, and assistance from the consular representative of their State of origin.
There had been a significant increase in migratory flows as a result of the impact of unilateral coercive measures. As of 2020, things were normalising and there were positive flows. A report had been created showing the work of the Special Commission as it addressed crimes against the Venezuelan migrant population abroad. In that report, the causes of forced migration were assessed, as well as the impact of unilateral coercive measures.
Venezuela had historically been a receiver of migrants, unlike what had been seen in recent years. The report had a specific data point which had been cross-referenced regarding the killings of Venezuelans in other regions. Shocking data had been received from Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and other regions. The number of Venezuelan citizens killed or subject to criminalisation was frightening.
A Ministry of Indigenous Peoples had been created. Many indigenous communities were cross-border communities. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis, many indigenous groups chose to seek better living conditions; however, that was voluntary and not permanent.
Since 2016, there had been an inflation of data which showed a great deal of creativity within the United Nations system, which led to confusion. The number of a million Venezuelans abroad was impossible. Sometimes statistics had been used by some international agencies for propaganda. Inflated data being wielded by the Colombian Government did not reflect that people were dual citizens. The delegation called for joint work to ensure that Venezuelan migrants were not used for political ends, and the Committee should support Venezuela in stopping that.
Unilateral coercive measures had completely shaken up reality in Venezuela. Money was blocked in the banking system, and that had an impact on Venezuelan migration. Venezuela was trying to unblock the criminal blockade and called on the Committee to condemn the unilateral coercive measures which undermined the capacity of the State.
Two Prosecutor’s Offices had been opened which directly addressed criminal reports by workers, such as sexual harassment, violence in the workplace and unjust firings. A national law against organized crime and financing provided for 8 to 10-year prison sentences, and the crime of trafficking provided for sentences of 25 to 30 years if the victim was a child.
The delegation said that from 2014, there had been 133 unilateral coercive measures, two laws and seven executive orders which had affected Venezuela. Those measures had produced a dramatic drop in national income, including the freezing of billions of dollars of Venezuelan assets. Some measures had particularly impacted migrant workers in Venezuela, including measures adopted against the national airline, which conducted the Return to the Homeland Plan. All the planes had been included on the list of asset control, meaning fuel could not be sold to those planes and airport services could not be provided, reducing the impact of the Plan in the countries applying those asset controls. Most national banks had broken links with Venezuela; there were no mechanisms in place for sending money from migrants abroad to family in Venezuela. A programme had been set up which allowed remittances to be paid in crypto-currencies. Those private services offered a disadvantageous exchange rate for migrants who wished to send remittances to Venezuela.
Questions by Committee Experts
PABLO CÉSAR GARCIA SAENZ, Committee Rapporteur and country co-rapporteur for Venezuela, asked if there were programmes in place to re-establish the ten consular offices in Colombia?
EDGAR CORZO SOSA, Committee Chair and country co-rapporteur for Venezuela said information had been received that returnees to Venezuela could be put into difficult positions. Was the return truly free? Reintegration within the country was a serious challenge. What efforts were being made to receive those who had returned? Migration was not just about exiting, it was also about returning, which was equally important. What actions were being taken the strengthen the Ombudsman? What had been done within the country to disseminate the Convention?
A Committee Expert asked for information on some of the penal processes for Venezuelans who returned during the COVID-19 pandemic. Could the delegation share statistics about those who were recognised as refugees in Venezuela?
A Committee Expert asked for information about the expulsion of migrant workers who violated the law in Venezuela.
A Committee Expert said that the Special Commission which had been established to investigate crimes committed against Venezuelans abroad was a good initiative. What were the results of investigations? What follow-up was applied? What results had been obtained? What actions had that led to?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said the reopening of the consular office in Colombia was good news for Venezuelans and Colombians. The ambassador was re-equipping the offices in Colombia, allowing Venezuelans living there to uphold their rights. It was hoped that the same could happen in countries such as Brazil as well. There was a clear political will between the countries.
All workers in Venezuela were permitted to be affiliated with a union, and no one was asked about their migratory status when it came to exercising labour rights. If a migrant worker’s rights were violated by an employer, the employee could go before the Labour Ombudsman without their migratory status being questioned. The rights of migrant workers in Venezuela were guaranteed. Venezuela had ratified 54 International Labour Organization Conventions, and 50 of those had been fully implemented.
All foreign and domestic workers had access to domestic justice in Venezuela, free of charge. It was not a crime to have the status of a migrant, but if a migrant worker committed a crime, they would be detained. That was not due to their migratory status. It was not a crime to be an undocumented immigrant. A law on foreigners established the requirements for entering and leaving the country, but people would not be jailed while their documents were being received. Venezuela did set forth the possibility of holding multiple citizenships.
Venezuelan social policies recognised women as protagonists, and several bodies supported migrant women within the country. The Development Bank for Women offered a multitude of loans to women and there was a special jurisdiction for addressing women. The national system for the protection of women recently held a technical roundtable on violence against women, supporting the State’s policies aimed at ensuring protection against gender violence. However, the unilateral coercive measures had an impact on the human rights of women. There were single mothers who had to migrate due to those measures. Over 60 per cent of those who had returned to Venezuela via the Return to the Homeland Plan were women.
Organized crime groups entering Venezuela were the subject of open investigations, and firearms, drugs, and other illegal materials had been seized. Repatriation was conducted for the remains of any Venezuelan citizen who died abroad. Recently, 15 Venezuelan citizens had died in a traffic accident in Nicaragua, and through work with the Nicaraguan Government, the bodies of those citizens were able to be transferred to Venezuela and handed back to their families in a humane and dignified way.
Around 29,000 people had been brought back to Venezuela on over 770 flights through the Return to Homeland Plan. Those people had left Venezuela due to negative media and messages conveyed about the situation in State, and had found themselves in vulnerable situations abroad. When they returned, they were assisted by missions and offered social benefits to allow them to integrate into Venezuelan society. The State covered all the costs of that repatriation, which highlighted the willingness of the Government to repatriate citizens in vulnerable situations. The programme was considered a success by the Government.
More than 250 awareness-raising activities regarding human trafficking had taken place in Venezuela so far this year. An anti-trafficking service had been established in each state of the country, to raise greater awareness among investigators and fight against organized crime groups. A plan had been established which would allow the development of legislation in that area. Venezuela welcomed the assistance of the Committee in the development of those draft laws.
There were reports of xenophobia, hate speech, and discrimination taking place against Venezuelan nationals living in other countries. In response to the murder of two Venezuelan teenagers in Colombia, a group had been set up which included Members of Parliament. A report produced by that group had assessed the causes of forced migration and found that more than 80 per cent of the assassinations of Venezuelan migrant workers took place in Colombian territory. The report outlined crimes against humanity and acts of aggression committed against Venezuelan migrant workers in Colombia, and was being addressed by Parliament.
In 2016, a national plan had been approved for human rights, following a wide-ranging consultation programme throughout the country. The plan identified five key principles for human rights, including equality and non-discrimination, with specific programmes focusing on the rights of migrant workers and their families. The plan also included strategic action on the sharing and broadcasting of national instruments signed by Venezuela, including the work carried out by the treaty bodies. More than 1,200 training activities for civil and public servants had been carried out under the plan.
The Ombudsman was independent, with the freedom to address any human rights issue which arose. The institution was also carrying out necessary measures to be requalified under Category A as a national human rights institution.
All asylum seekers in Venezuela received a provisional document which ensured their rights were guaranteed while the review process was underway. The documents had a QR code with images and all information available, and had been developed in coordination with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Protection was available to children and adolescents regardless of their migratory status. A hotline supported the migrant population, providing psychological and legal support. Children who came to Venezuela as migrants had access to specialized programmes free of charge. Family guidance centres were in place to address substance abuse, and there was a national programme to assist migrant children with reading and writing. Those programmes were aimed at protecting the rights of all migrant children and adolescents. Venezuela had one of the most porous and dynamic borders in the Americas, and the State’s armed forces were active in that area. Migrants were not detained at the borders, and there were no expulsions.
Questions by Committee Experts
PABLO CÉSAR GARCIA SAENZ, Committee Rapporteur and country co-rapporteur for Venezuela, said the Committee looked favourably on the law on trafficking. Could more information be provided on the National Council against Trafficking in Persons? Were there statistics on those who had returned to Venezuela via the Return to the Homeland Plan? Had they been reintegrated into their work or studies? How many Venezuelans were abroad, and how were they supported in the electoral process when it came to voting?
EDGAR CORZO SOSA, Committee Chair and country co-rapporteur for Venezuela, asked if Venezuelans living abroad could update their voter information and vote from wherever they were?
If someone was going to be deported from Venezuela, where would the person be held? If international instruments were in contradiction with the provisions of the Constitution, which occurred in many countries, what was the solution in the legal system? How were family members involved in investigations which had to be carried out when a Venezuelan citizen died in a foreign country?
A Committee Expert asked whether at the jurisdictional level in Venezuela, the Convention had been invoked by any parties, during any case put forward by a migrant?
A Committee Expert asked for exact statistics about Venezuelans abroad, including those participating in elections.
A Committee Expert asked about the status of the Ombudsman, and what role that Office played in the protection of the rights of migrant workers?
A Committee Expert requested more information about the role of civil society in the area of migration.
A Committee Expert asked about the data which existed on migratory flows. Which measures did the Government take to measure migratory flows in the country, including those entering and those emigrating? Was that data publicly available and available to civil society?
A Committee Expert asked for information about paperwork in consular offices and its costs. Were there mechanisms for exemptions from those costs? There had been reports of administrative detention for those awaiting asylum. Did that happen, and under what conditions? Was there legal assistance available in cases where that occurred? How were decisions for expulsion made?
A Committee Expert asked about the structure of the national human rights institution. Did it have the right to deal with issues brought by migrants in situations of distress?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that the electoral registry was constantly being updated. The closing of consulates abroad did in some cases prevent Venezuelans living in those countries from voting. It was hoped that when diplomatic relations were normalised with those countries, the voting power of Venezuelans living abroad would be restored.
All migrant workers who returned were brought into their former posts and positions and were not penalised for having migrated.
The State had worked with the United Nations Children’s Fund to draft guidelines for the protection of children and adolescents during the migration process.
The National Council against Trafficking in Persons was an extremely high-level council, aimed at bringing concrete strategies to respond to the situation.
Migrant workers remained free while under an administrative process and were given the opportunity to consult with interpreters free of charge. In extreme cases, they could be put in a shelter for no more than 5 to 15 days. The duration was determined on a case-by-case basis.
If there was a collision between a treaty and the Constitution, the instrument could be ratified with a reservation. The new Constitution passed in 1999 had lifted a reservation which had been implemented on the Convention of Civil and Political Rights, as the reservation was no longer required.
The preparation of responses to the list of issues had included participation by civil society. The country recognised and protected the work carried out by non-governmental organizations in the work of human rights, as well as the work carried out by human rights defenders. The Ombudsman was able to assist families in cases where one of their members had passed away abroad, and had the power to inspect any State institution, without forewarning.
There were many instances where costs for documentation could be waived, including for children, or those whose family members had died abroad. The Return to the Homeland Plan had many goals, one being to rescue Venezuelans who found themselves in such economic situations that they needed to return to Venezuela. The Plan had no international support, despite that being requested. It was a programme for return and repatriation that was voluntary and should be recognised as a best practice. When that population returned to the country, they automatically re-joined their previous life.
Migration research was underway, being carried out by universities in the country. There was also the national centre for development which published information on migration. An observatory was recently set up on the unilateral coercive measures. The State was undergoing a significant media attack, and was carefully gathering data to avoid figures being put out incorrectly. Venezuela had a complex statistics management system, and was carrying out a census which would provide more information on migration flows. Data was used to define public policy, and then systematised to define national policies, including work covering migrant workers.
PABLO CÉSAR GARCIA SAENZ, Committee Rapporteur and country co-rapporteur for Venezuela, thanked Venezuela for the high level of their delegation, which demonstrated the interest the State had in the Committee. It was hoped that the opening of the dialogue would enable follow-up.
EDGAR CORZO SOSA, Committee Chair and country co-rapporteur for Venezuela, thanked the delegation for its participation and recognised the high level of the members of the delegation. The dialogue was a matter of exchanging information to determine how to benefit people in situations of migration.
FRANCISCO TORREALBA, Minister of People’s Power for the Social Process of Labour and head of the delegation , thanked the Committee and expressed gratitude for the respectful and kind way that the State had been received, and for the constructive dialogue with the Committee. Mr. Torrealba underlined Venezuela’s interest in working with the Committee to continue to improve the rights of migrant workers in the country.
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