On 4 February, Amnesty International (AI) released a report on the deteriorating situation for Venezuelans seeking asylum in Peru. The report highlights what it sees as the rapid deterioration in Peru’s treatment of Venezuelan refugees, who are being turned away and denied the right to seek protection. Although Peru initially had a policy of welcoming Venezuelans, this stance appears to have changed. AI says it “appear[s] to amount to a deliberate policy of rejection of new arrivals from Venezuela”.

A total of 4.8 million people had fled Venezuela by December 2019 in response to deteriorating economic, social and political conditions in the country.

AI argues that the majority of Venezuelans fleeing the country are refugees in international law and entitled to international protection either under the Refugee Convention or the regional 1984 Cartagena Declaration. The latter defines refugees as people “who have fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order”. Peru is signatory to the declaration.

AI hails Peru’s role in accommodating Venezuelan refugees. It says that “Peru, hosting the largest number of Venezuelan asylum-seekers (377,047) globally and home to over 800,000 Venezuelans in total, is deserving of recognition.” Nevertheless, it adds “this past generosity does not mean Peru can flout its present and future international obligations”.

AI sees Peru’s initial commitment towards Venezuelans beginning to waver in 2018, when access to the country became increasingly difficult. At first, Venezuelans could enter with a temporary stay permit and those that did not have one could apply for asylum. In August 2018, the Peruvian authorities announced that only those who had entered Peru by the end of October 2018 would still be eligible for the permit.

Since 2018, a variety of measures were introduced to restrict access, such as requiring Venezuelans to present their passport at the border. This, AI claims, is almost impossible for most, “as obtaining [a passport] presents numerous challenges in a country close to collapse”.

There were some exceptions for those who fulfilled certain criteria as “humanitarian exceptions”, but in June, Peru introduced a further requirement: a humanitarian visa to enter the country. This can only be obtained with the presentation of a passport and a criminal record report, both difficult to obtain. Restrictions tightened further since Ecuador last August introduced the need for Venezuelans to hold a humanitarian visa to enter the country. Venezuelans have since then had to show a passport upon entry to Peru with entry and departure stamps from Ecuador. According to AI, humanitarian exceptions are now only being applied in very limited cases.

Furthermore, Peru appears to have also made changes to its asylum procedures since June 2019. Whereas before, Venezuelans could apply for asylum after arrival to the country, they now have to wait at the border to apply for asylum and then wait for a response. This can be a lengthy process and conditions at the border can be precarious.

All this, AI believes, has forced an increasing number of Venezuelans to enter the country irregularly, some 200-300 people a day. This exposes them to increased risks such as people trafficking, exploitation, violence (including sexual and gender-based violence) and various forms of discrimination. Their irregular status limits access to essential services or formal employment in Peru.

AI acknowledges that Peru is not the only country in the region that is trying to limit entry to Venezuelans; it cites Chile and Ecuador as imposing restrictive measures and limiting rights of entry.