©Fernanda Pineda/Amnesty International

Constant violence and absent governments: The twofold lack of protection faced by Venezuelan refugees

Their story begins with them fleeing mass violations of human rights. It continues at the border, where they face requirements that are impossible to meet while seeking protection. While en route to a new home they face harassment, robbery, extortion, and exploitation. Upon arrival they have to endure discrimination, instability and further violence on the streets, in their homes and at work. Despite having survived violence both because they are women and because they are Venezuelan, governments deny them the possibility of filing a report or receiving medical attention. This is the odyssey experienced by thousands of Venezuelan women in Colombia and Peru.

More than 6.1 million people have fled from Venezuela since 2015, of whom 5 million have fled to other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Of these people, more than 3 million are in Colombia and Peru, and more than 50% of them are women and girls. Although according to UN Women gender-based violence is a “shadow pandemic” throughout the region, there are certain conditions that Venezuelan women who have fled their country face that leave them in a situation of greater vulnerability. In this context, the governments of receiving countries are not complying with their obligation to protect them either as refugees or as survivors of gender-based violence. This must be corrected.

Amnesty International condemns this failure of the Colombian and Peruvian governments to protect Venezuelan women following a rigorous analysis of the situation on the ground and the regulations in force. We interviewed 63 Venezuelan women living in Colombia and Peru, carried out 45 interviews with local NGOs and international organizations, submitted 17 requests for access to public information, held 15 meetings with government institutions, and reviewed national legislation, public policies and international standards on human rights. After months of research, we concluded that the governments of Peru and Colombia are not complying with their duty to guarantee Venezuelan women a life free from violence.

I went to the police station the first time and I will never forget the expression on the police officer’s face. He looked me up and down and said: ‘veneca’ [a derogatory way of referring to Venezuelans].

Carmen

The twofold lack of protection of Venezuelan women refers on one hand to the lack of international protection as people who have fled from mass human rights violations in Venezuela; and, on the other hand, to the lack of protection when these women face gender-based violence, as in many cases they are denied the rights to justice and medical attention. When both of these are combined, the level of risk is also heightened. As they do not have regular resident status in the country, their opportunities are reduced to informal and unstable work, labor exploitation or sexual exploitation, while they are also excluded from access to public services, such as healthcare or being able to report acts of violence that they face due to the fact that they are Venezuelan women.

The reality in both countries shows that a major obstacle to guaranteeing of the rights of Venezuelan women lies in xenophobia and discrimination on the basis of their gender and nationality. Officials handling the cases of Venezuelan survivors of gender-based violence – prosecutors, police officers, medical staff and immigration officials – often display compounded stereotypes in their behaviour, that is to say, they discriminate against women not only based on their gender but also based on other contributing factors such as migration status, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity, among other factors. This means that very often they are discriminated against and re-victimized due to a combination of factors: due to the fact that they are women, Venezuelan, migrants and even due to being in a situation of poverty. Carmen, a Venezuelan woman in Peru whose real name we are not using in order to protect her identity, shared her own experience with us: “I went to the police station the first time and I will never forget the expression on the police officer’s face. He looked me up and down and said: ‘veneca’ [a derogatory way of referring to Venezuelans].”

We call on the Colombian and Peruvian authorities to correct this course urgently, ensuring protection for Venezuelan women in both countries. First and foremost, they must guarantee effective access to international protection and migration status regularization mechanisms. Among other things, this implies removing exclusionary and arbitrary requirements such as having entered the country prior to a certain date and providing documentary evidence of this or having a specific identity document.

Secondly, Colombia and Peru must guarantee that the frontline public officials handling the cases of Venezuelan women survivors of gender-based violence receive initial and ongoing adequate, systematic, and mandatory training in relation to the prevention and detection of gender-based violence. These training programmes must be centred around challenging gender stereotypes and handling the specific needs of women refugees and migrants.

These are the first steps that the Peruvian and Colombian authorities must take in order to guarantee the protection of Venezuelan women who have faced and continue to face constant discrimination and violence. In the face of a crisis of this magnitude, governments must be key players in finding the solution, not major absentees.