“WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO TREAT THEM FAIRLY AND IN A HUMANITARIAN WAY BUT IN THE LONG TERM, THEY MUST BE REPATRIATED TO VENEZUELA.” – Jagdeo
By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
If Guyana is serious about safeguarding its territorial integrity, it would be very careful of the handling of Venezuelans coming to Guyana. Former President Bharrat Jagdeo said this at a recent press conference he held at his Church Street Office.
Jagdeo stressed that the Venezuela threat is not to be taken lightly. He said however, that he is worried that the government is underestimating Venezuela’s threat and several of the things that can make it stronger.
Jagdeo said that the government is putting too much of the handling of the threat in the hands of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF).
“I have been speaking of a larger threat for some time. After almost two months, President (David) Granger then announced that the Army will give a briefing to some of our Members of Parliament (MPs); I think, it was the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament.”
Jagdeo said that he was apprised about what transpired in that briefing. However, he raised the matter again when he met with President (David) Granger recently.
“We pointed out that the PPP won Region One and Region Nine—the two bordering Regions through which most of the refugees will come—and we will like to see a differentiated policy in addressing refugees.”
Jagdeo said that there are three types of people who will come across the border.
He said that there will be Guyanese who lived in Venezuela. “If they have a tiny drop of Guyanese blood, they are our own people.” Jagdeo said that once it can be proven that any or both of their parents or grandparents are Guyanese, “they should be welcomed and allowed to be integrated. That’s the first “type” he explained.
The second type Jagdeo explained would be Amerindians who traverse the borders as their way of life. “There are Amerindians who tend to move across the orders without passports. They tend not to have documents from time in memoriam.”
The third “type” of people Jagdeo said will be coming to Guyana would be born and bred Venezuelans who are fleeing hardship in their country.
Jagdeo said, “We have an obligation to treat them fairly and in a humanitarian way but in the long term they must be repatriated to Venezuela.”
The former President said that it is an imperative to ensure that the Venezuelan refugees are repatriated “given the nature of the threat on the border and what a settlement on our side of the border with permanent residents of Venezuela can pose.”
He emphasized that a settlement of Venezuelans will almost definitely pose “a threat to our territorial integrity in the future.”
Jagdeo told the media, “We want a different approach to each type of people coming across the border and I spoke to the President about it.”
Further, Jagdeo said, “I shared this with US officials who came to see me. And, they said to me that the threat seems to be larger because in their estimation, you have nearly 1.5 million refugees leaving Venezuela in the next year or so and that will pose a threat to other countries in the region not just Guyana. So I suspect given what has happened there and the recent events in Brazil, we have to pay greater attention to this issue.”
Last month, Minister of Citizenship, Winston Felix announced that plans are in motion for the establishment of a homestead settlement area for the 260 confirmed Venezuelans, who are occupying areas in Barima-Waini (Region One).
Minister Felix said that the resettlement area will allow the Venezuelans to be self-reliant
“It is intended that we [will] develop something like a homestead where families are accumulated and eventually we can move them into cash crop farming. We can encourage that so that in the first instance, they can feed themselves and if they have surpluses they can sell. We are looking at crops for their sustenance and their immediate needs. Once you get that…going then the next thing is to guide them into areas in which they can sustain themselves. The immediate outcome is that we want to see them properly settled and they must be able to sustain themselves…,” he said.
“In the meantime, the Ministry of Health is continuing its vaccination [efforts]… [The Department of] Immigration is continuing the registration and support work… The Police [are] also following through with the support work to this committee. So, all agencies, locally, are locked into this committee to provide services and support for the Venezuelans in Guyana. We are also exploring the situation in Region Seven [in order] to find out where [the Venezuelans] are and what numbers we have to [cater for],” he said.
Jagdeo said that he does not know what is government’s thinking in setting up a “settlement” for Venezuelans. He said that he hopes it’s temporary; otherwise it’s a huge mistake.
“I hope it is just a place that people can receive the generosity of Guyana and be treated in a dignified manner to be repatriated at some point in time,” said Jagdeo.
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