The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the fragile and neglected journeys of migrants around the world. With countries shutting down their borders and declaring lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19, migrants saw their rights and needs enter a time of the exception. Given the complexity and numerous migrant narratives, the following article will focus on the impacts of the pandemic in the Venezuelan migration crisis in Peru. The Peruvian case shows to be unique since it is one of the countries with most Venezuelans in the Latin American region – with over 830,000 migrants (UNHCR, 2020a) – and due to the political choices made by the Government during the Covid-19 pandemic.
To better understand the impacts of Covid-19 among Venezuelan migrants in Peru, the following article will analyze how the social policies and the negligent posture adopted by the Peruvian Government violate compromises acquired in International Law.
The Peruvian Case
The Peruvian Government was one of the first countries in the Latin American region to enter into lockdown back in March 2020, as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus (Reuters, 2020). While the decision to go under quarantine was adequate in terms of public health, it had severe socio-economic consequences for Venezuelan migrants. A recent study sponsored by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that 92,1% of Venezuelan migrants and refugees work without a job contract (Koechlin, Solorzano, Larco & Mujica, 2019). Therefore, they access well-fare benefits such as health insurance, social security, retirement funds, among others. The same study found that 89% of Venezuelans work in the service industry (2019). A sector hit due to the social distancing measures.
As a result, the Peruvian Government released an aid bonus to alleviate the negative economic consequences of the pandemic. The so-called “Universal Family Bonus” (or “Bono Familiar Universal” in Spanish) gave 200 USD economic assistance to families in need (Peru, 2020a). However, the Bonus was far from Universal. As the Peruvian President, the aid relief will only benefit Peruvian citizens (RPP, 2020). However, the Government ignored that the pandemic had also hit harshly Venezuelan migrants. In fact, according to the World Bank, the pandemic is said to leave at least 20% of Venezuelans in Peru under extreme poverty (2020). If Venezuelan immigrants face a precarious situation, why has the Government ignored their needs?
The growing xenophobic sentiment against this group is one way to explain the institutional neglect toward Venezuelans in Peru. According to a study carried by the Peruvian Studies Institute (IEP, in Spanish), 73% of Peruvians disagree with Venezuelan migration (2019). The IEP found that 75% of Peruvians fear that Venezuelans will take all the jobs, and 67% believe that the migratory flux will increase violence rates (2019). This negative sentiment towards Venezuelans is fueled by some Government representatives that have publicly declared that “Good and bad Venezuelans have to leave the country” (BBC, 2019). The media has also contributed to the growing xenophobic sentiment towards Venezuelans.
According to the Association of Venezuelan Media Workers in Peru (ASOCOVEP, in Spanish), the “Peruvian media is the main actor promoting rejection against Venezuelans” (Impulso, 2019). By looking at its news about Venezuelans in Peru, it is only possible to find only a negative portrayal of this group. Especially by linking Venezuelans to crime and drug trafficking. The newspaper “Trome” is a relevant example since, according to the Harvard Review of Latin America, it is the most read newspaper in Spanish in the world (Harvard, 2014).
However, the narrative used by the media to portray Venezuelans as criminals does not translate to empirical proof. In reality, Venezuelans are accountable only for 0,6% of crimes, according to the Peruvian National Police (Impulso, 2019).
Under International Law
The high disapproval towards Venezuelan migrants among the Peruvian population could have constrained the Peruvian Government to expand the scope of the Bonus. However, this behavior breached Peruvian obligations under international law, especially under the International Covenant of Political and Civil Rights (ICCPR) and the American Convention of Human Rights (ACHR), both binding documents.
After the exponential growth in the number of Venezuelans in Peru, the Government decided to release a decree legalizing their permanence in the country (Peru, 2020b). This action, therefore, put all Venezuelans under Peruvian jurisdiction. In this sense, Peru is bound to follow article 2, article 26, and article 24 of both conventions respectively, which state that
“Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as [..] national […]origin, property, birth or another status.” (art. 2, OHCHR, 1966)
“All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as […] national[…]l origin, property, birth or other status.” (art. 26, OHCHR, 1966)
“All persons are equal before the law. Consequently, they are entitled, without discrimination, to equal protection of the law” (art 24, CIDH, 1969)
All three articles ensure that States guarantee that all individuals are equal to the law and therefore receive equal protection. Having analyzed these key parts of the ICCPR and ACHR, the Universal Family Bonus must have included Venezuelan migrants residents in Peruvian territory.
Peru is legally bound by both Conventions, which means that Peruvians and Venezuelan residents must enjoy equality in treatment under the law. However, the South-American country failed to recognize such equality in the case of the Bonus. The Government released the latter under an urgent decree, which in Peruvian domestic law amounts to national law (Baldwin, 2020). Following the principle of equality before the law highlighted by both Conventions, the Government must have included foreign nationals residents in the country since they are under the country’s jurisdiction; as a result of being recognized as legal residents by a national decree mentioned above. However, Peru failed to ensure equality in the protection of the aforementioned group, which results in a violation of the three articles. Therefore violating Venezuelan immigrants’ human rights.
Another layer of international law breached by the Peruvian Government is related to the vulnerability of Venezuelan refugees. Having ratified the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol, Peru is a state party of the refugee protection regime, which binds the country to follow its content. Having said this, it is worth analyzing the situation of refugees in the frame of the Bonus case.
According to the UNHCR, Peru has granted refugee status to over 5000 Venezuelans (UN, 2020). However, just as the other Venezuelan migrants that do not enjoy refugee status, they have not been recognized as beneficiaries for the Universal Family Bonus. The lack of compromise with the special status inherent to refugees creates a contradiction with the responsibility Peru acquired after becoming a member of the refugee regime.
More specifically, under article 23 of the 1951 Convention, Peru is required to “ [provide] refugees lawfully staying in their territory the same treatment concerning public relief and assistance as is accorded to their nationals.” (1951) The Peruvian Government falls into the same contradiction as in the case of Venezuelan migrants. Given the economic fragility demonstrated by Venezuelan refugees and due to the provisions under article 23, the latter group must have been included to receive the Universal Family Bonus. Having said this, the Peruvian Government is also violating the rights of refugees and being negligent with the compromise it acquired under the 1951 Convention. From an international perspective, the state’s breach of article 23 undermines the international efforts to secure the lives of those who flee their country.
After analyzing the violation of articles of the ICCPR, ACHR, and 1951 Convention, it is possible to argue that Peru is not fulfilling its state’s obligations. Under international law, “the State is required to make sure individuals’ rights, as recognized by law, are respected, protected, fulfilled and, when necessary, enforced.” (UNODOC, 2020) The obligations to which a State is accountable are of negative and positive nature. The former “refers to a duty not to act; that is, to refrain from action that would hinder human rights.” (2020), and the latter “requires national authorities to act; that is, to take necessary measures to safeguard a right.” (2020)
When it comes to positive obligations, the Peruvian Government neglected its positive obligations. Peru did not take all the necessary measures to implement policies to safeguard the well-being of Venezuelans that are under its jurisdiction. In regards to negative obligations, the situation is far from different. Even if there was no intentional aim to hinder these migrant’s human rights, the omission from the Peruvian Government caused the same effect. Failing to include Venezuelans in the Bonus harmed their human rights, as their situation is precarious and vulnerable. Therefore, Peru must have refrained from excluding Venezuelans from its decree.
To summarize, immigrants’ rights have become more fragile throughout the coronavirus pandemic. As States rushed to secure their populations’ well-being, they ended up excluding non-citizens under their jurisdiction. This situation becomes clear in the Peruvian case, as the Government neglected the needs of Venezuelan immigrants that were under its protection. Therefore, the policy implemented by the Peruvian Government violated its obligations before International Law and the human rights of Venezuelan migrants.
The Peruvian Government, however, must comply with the responsibilities they acquired through international law documents. Failing to meet the standards of the latter is a breach of its obligations under international law. All of which jeopardizes the advancement of the Human Rights regime and incentivizes the emergence of isolationist behaviors.
Finally, States that have immigrants under their jurisdiction should refrain from implementing dichotomic approaches in their policies. Human rights are universal for all humankind and differences based on citizenship only aggravate social inequalities. Instead, States should have a holistic view and strive for effective equality of their overall population.