The latest is that approximately 5,000 Venezuelans refugees have taken up residence inside Guyana. From afar, it sounds like a simple handful; one of little significance, and less consequence. This sensitive issue could be well-served with a bit more probing through the layers, and peeling back some of them.
It is a number, this forlorn 5,000 fleeing to survive, seeking shelter, sustenance, and any safety that can be had. It is only an official number, though; and it is one fraught with the feeble, which succumbs before any vigorous scrutiny.
The larger reality has to expand to, and encircle, the big picture of those unaccounted for, and who may have slipped into Guyana under the radar. The question is: how many of these desperate, incoming Venezuelan neighbours can poor, struggling Guyana absorb?
There is news that numbers of crisis proportions have massed in other bordering countries. And with due consideration to the continued deterioration of the situation inside Venezuela, and what that means for hapless civilians living a horror story, the exodus could very well transform into an even bigger flood.
From a Guyana perspective, the humanitarian response has to be measured and balanced against its own not-too-robust circumstances. To begin with, there is the inevitable impact on near destitute communities, sometimes operating close to subsistence levels, and with little room and opportunity for upward mobility.
Next, there has to be reasonable and legitimate concerns over official integrity and professionalism, which is certain to be swamped from the sheer weight of numbers. These are very thin operational presences. Then, there could arise issues over possible trafficking of minors and females, and exploitation of the vulnerable, be they Guyanese citizens or from the ranks of the newcomers. These are standing and known problems, and would not be aided by more prey and the watching predatory.
Further, the situation is readymade for infiltration by criminal elements pretending to be in search of relief, but, in actuality, craftily using the crisis and moving bulk of people as cover. It is perfect. It is perfect, also, for narcotics smuggling, arms movement, gold smuggling, and a litany of illicit activities, which could, either individually or in aggregate, prove overpowering for the meagre government human resources on hand.
The long, porous, and largely unmanned border leaves only the troubling on the table and on the mind. This is trouble for this small ill-equipped society, struggling to get its own bearings. It is a brewing, indefinable storm amidst other more finite storms.
In a nutshell, what has already assumed the contours of the unpredictable holds the distinct possibility of becoming quickly unmanageable. It can creep up on this society unknowingly. There is the challenge of how to be welcoming and hospitable, with an eye to what is pragmatic and feasible, all local circumstances considered. In the first and last analysis, matters distill to a simple place: how much is too much?
Still further, there has to be another consideration in the mix; it is more of the strategic. Those who come here to escape the terrors and perils have to be viewed from two distinct points. The first is whether they come to Guyana to take up temporary residence, and in the hope that the travails in the Venezuelan leadership milieu blows over. The key word here is temporary. Meaning that once things settle down in the place of their birth, they have every intention of returning to their homes and what they know.
On the other hand, if the stream of arrivals is coming here to live permanently, then that shifts the goalposts in a new and different direction. Given the sharp border issue between Guyana and Venezuela, the loyalty factor looms and cannot be dismissed. This could be a problem later, when circumstances intensify. It is a dilemma: doing little can encourage a tide, and attach yet another claim to Guyana’s land. Being too harsh can imperil those most in need.
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