By failing to comply with its international obligations and national legislation, the Chilean state is endangering Venezuelans who have fled their country and are seeking protection, Amnesty International found in a new report, “No one wants to live in secrecy”: Lack of protection for Venezuelan refugees in Chile, which includes the testimonies of 12 Venezuelan women.
“It’s unfortunate that the main countries hosting Venezuelan refugees in the world are failing in their obligation to guarantee protection to those who flee Venezuela. We had already documented the enormous challenges in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador; and now we have shown that the Chilean government, far from breaking this trend and granting them international protection or migratory regularization, has for years been establishing an insurmountable obstacle course to prevent them settling in the country,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
According to official figures, Chile is home to some 444,400 Venezuelans — a conservative figure as it dates from December 2021. This places it behind Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, which host some 2,500,000, 1,500,000 and 502,000 Venezuelan people respectively. Together, these four Latin American countries are home to almost 70% of the 7.17 million people who have fled Venezuela due to the complex humanitarian emergency, the human rights crisis, and the possible commission of crimes against humanity. Global figures are continuously increasing, as are the countries of destination. For instance, the United States now ranks as the country hosting the third most Venezuelans globally (545,000 people, according to official figures for 2021). As Venezuelans are forced to flee to countries at greater distances and in more precarious conditions, such as the United States or Mexico, Amnesty International has condemned that these states fail to comply with their obligations to guarantee access to asylum and the non-refoulement of Venezuelans to places or situations of risk.
The testimonies of Venezuelan women living in Chile illustrate the barriers that, for years, people who have managed to enter Chilean territory and seek to obtain international protection or regularize their migratory status must overcome. These obstacles include the imposition of entry visas with impossible requirements, denial of entry at the border, lack of information about the right to request international protection, as well as the implementation of illegal practices that require those who request refugee status to report themselves to the authorities for irregular entry into the country. These measures violate their right to request international protection. They also put people at risk of expulsion, a risk that is aggravated by the impossibility of regularizing their situation in the country, and by the legislative framework that allows and facilitates immediate returns and expulsions, in violation of due process.
The Chilean state forces the majority of Venezuelans to enter through insecure and unauthorized border crossings, but at the same time it penalizes them for entering irregularly and makes it difficult for them to request asylum.Sofía Lanyon, President, Amnesty International Chile
For Amnesty International, the requirement to self-report irregular entry is extremely alarming. This measure is not only an obstacle to international protection, but also, in practice, penalizes and discriminates against refugees because of the way they enter the country and violates the Convention on the Status of Refugees and its Protocol, of which Chile is a signatory. In addition, it puts them at risk of expulsion to places where their lives and rights are in danger, in violation of the principle of non-refoulement.
“The Chilean state forces the majority of Venezuelans to enter through insecure and unauthorized border crossings, but at the same time it penalizes them for entering irregularly and makes it difficult for them to request asylum. Without options to access regularization channels or to be able to exercise their rights, the authorities condemn Venezuelans to a situation of absolute vulnerability. Proposals for reforms to the normative framework for immigration must be aimed at protecting the rights of people in situations of extreme vulnerability, including women, girls and boys, instead of seeking to facilitate their expulsion and exacerbate the stigmatization they suffer”, said Sofía Lanyon, president of Amnesty International Chile.
On the eve of 8 March, she added: “As we approach the commemoration of International Women’s Day, this is an ideal moment to publicize the injustices that Venezuelan women face in Chile and, at the same time, an opportunity to call on the government to respond to the human rights violations that are being committed in our country, including by guaranteeing urgent access to international protection.”
In this context, and in line with previous Amnesty International investigations on the matter, the situation of Venezuelan women survivors of gender-based violence who do not have regular immigration status is particularly worrying. Amnesty International fears that, in Chile, the serious obstacles to accessing international protection or other forms of migratory regularization exposed by its research could have a negative impact on the rights of these women, leaving them in a situation of greater vulnerability to gender-based violence.
The organization urgently calls on the Chilean government to guarantee effective and non-discriminatory access for all persons in need of protection to the procedure for the recognition of refugee status; to respect the principle of non-refoulement, including the prohibition of denying entry at the border; and to eliminate the self-reporting requirement so as to comply with international standards for the non-criminalization of irregular entry.
Amnesty International’s research was carried out between November 2022 and January 2023 and included fieldwork in the cities of Arica, Iquique and Santiago. In addition to the testimonies of the 12 Venezuelan women, Amnesty International interviewed 23 representatives of civil society organizations, four international organizations, and nine government entities, and made three freedom of information requests. Amnesty International also used its investigations in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to verify the conditions of departure and transit of Venezuelan refugees in the region.
As in previous investigations, Amnesty International refers to Venezuelan refugees in a context in which the Chilean state has signed the instruments of international law that establish the obligations of states with respect to refugees, specifically the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and the Cartagena Declaration of 1984, incorporated into Chilean legislation through Law No. 20,430 on the protection of refugees. These regulations require the Chilean state to protect Venezuelans who have fled their country.