Accessibility links

Breaking News

UN Calls for End to Deadly Sea Trafficking of Venezuelan Refugees, Migrants

Relatives and friends of a mother and son mourn their deaths while attending his funeral at La Salina cemetery, Dec. 16, 2020 in Guira, Venezuela, after both drowned in a shipwreck.

U.N. humanitarian agencies are calling for a stop to the deadly sea journeys on smugglers’ boats that are endangering the lives of Venezuelan refugees and migrants fleeing persecution and hardship there.

The appeal follows the latest loss of life in the waters near the Venezuelan coastal town of Guiria several days ago. Up to 25 refugees and migrants, among them four children whose boat had capsized offshore, were found floating in the sea.

The shipwrecked vessel reportedly set sail for Trinidad and Tobago on December 6. In the wake of the tragedy, U.N. agencies are calling for urgent efforts to stop smugglers and human traffickers sending refugees and migrants on dangerous sea journeys.

The U.N. human rights office is calling on authorities in Venezuela, and Trinidad and Tobago to launch an investigation into the incident. Marta Hurtado, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, says the probes should be about accountability and sending a message.

“Both governments have to conduct investigations, thorough and transparent and share their outcomes and to cooperate between them, not only to start to understand what happened in this case and to prosecute whoever needs to be prosecuted. We want to hold people who are responsible for it [accountable], but to avoid this tragedy from happening again,” Hurtatdo said.

The U.N. refugee agency and International Organization for Migration report more Venezuelans have been leaving their country in recent weeks as COVID-19 lockdown measures in the region have eased. However, they note land and maritime borders remain closed, forcing them to escape using informal, dangerous routes.

They say smugglers and human traffickers who exploit and abuse desperate people for profit are taking advantage of this situation. U.N. agencies say regular pathways must be available so refugees and migrants don't have to risk their lives.