(CMC) — Two United Nations agencies say the latest shipwreck in the Caribbean has highlighted the need for safe migration pathways, particularly in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic era when many borders remain closed.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, expressed “deep sadness” over the deaths of two people after a boat capsized off the coast of Venezuela last Thursday while heading towards Trinidad and Tobago.
Local Venezuelan authorities said that the boat was carrying at least 24 people.
The UN said while commercial Venezuelan vessels rescued seven people, operations are ongoing to find survivors among the 15 others who remain unaccounted for.
“The waters of the Caribbean Sea continue to claim the lives of Venezuelans,” said Eduardo Stein, Joint Special Representative of UNHCR and IOM for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants.
“As the conditions in the country continue to deteriorate — all worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic — people continue to undertake life-threatening journeys.”
The UN said there are over five million Venezuelan refugees and migrants around the world, estimating that 200,000 are being hosted in the Caribbean.
The tragedy is the latest of several incidents involving the capsizing of boats carrying Venezuelan refugees and migrants towards Caribbean islands, the UN said, adding that the most recent was reported near the Venezuelan city of Guiria in December 2020.
With land and maritime borders still closed to limit coronavirus transmission, the UN agencies said such journeys are taking place along irregular routes, “thus heightening the danger as well as health and protection risks”.
“Shipwrecks, tragic deaths at border crossings and further suffering are avoidable, but only if immediate and concerted international action is mobilised to find pragmatic solutions that put saving lives and protecting human rights at the forefront of any response,” Stein said.
“The establishment of regular and safe pathways, including through humanitarian visas and family reunification, as well as the implementation of protection-sensitive entry systems and adequate reception mechanisms, can prevent the use of irregular routes, smuggling and trafficking,” he added.
Both UNHCR and IOM have underlined their readiness to provide support and technical expertise towards these measures.
The UN agencies said they are co-leaders of a platform that coordinates the work of at least 24 partners and governments across the Caribbean to meet the needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela in the sub-region.