Offering legal support to Venezuelan migrants in the Americas

by Camila Estella, Programme Officer for TrustLaw
Tuesday, 31 May 2022 13:59 GMT

This impact story is part of a new series to celebrate the extraordinary pro bono projects undertaken by legal teams to support NGOs and social enterprises with the support of TrustLaw. All projects mentioned in this series are nominated for this year’s TrustLaw Awards. Find out more. 

With more than six million migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees from Venezuela, the Americas is facing its greatest migration crisis in recent years. When fleeing their country without the economic resources to cover transportation costs, Venezuelans are forced to take irregular routes, travelling hundreds of kilometres on foot with their belongings to reach border crossing – a phenomenon which the news media describes as “walkers”.

Un Mundo sin Mordaza, a Venezuelan non-profit working to protect human rights and freedom of expression in the country, has found that most walkers start their journeys without any information, documents or the required permits to legally stay in host countries.

To address this knowledge gap, Un Mundo sin Mordaza worked on an awareness campaign to tackle the lack of information and make the challenges of migration more visible. To this end, the organisation documented the harsh conditions migrants were likely to be in and showed how Venezuelan culture extended to host countries through artistic expressions.

As part of this campaign, Un Mundo sin Mordaza approached TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s pro bono legal service, with the idea of developing an easy-to-read legal guide that summarises laws and regulations applicable to Venezuelan migrants and asylum-seeker in the seven American countries hosting the largest number of Venezuelans.

TrustLaw connected Un Mundo sin Mordaza with law firms Philippi Prietocarrioza Ferrero DU & Uría in Colombia and Peru; Robalino Abogados in Ecuador; Foley Hoag LLP in the United States; Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr. e Quiroga Advogados in Brazil; Morales, Besa y Cía Ltda in Chile; and Richards, Cardinal, Tutzer, Zabala & Zaefferer in Argentina to develop a research on the legal requirements and procedures migrants and asylum-seekers should follow to legally stay in the seven host countries or regularise their situation.

Thanks to TrustLaw’s support and the legal assistance provided by the law firms, Un Mundo sin Mordaza produced and launched the ‘Migratory Legal Framework in American Countries guide, a useful tool to help Venezuelans make informed decisions when leaving their country and seeking asylum elsewhere.

In addition, the guide is a practical resource for the seven countries to adopt internationally recognised best practices to improve their migration laws. This is the first such guide that compiles the legal frameworks and requirements of each country for Venezuelans and is currently being used by international agencies and organisations as a source of information.

The collaboration between Un Mundo sin Mordaza and the law firms has been of paramount importance to bring the initial idea to life. In addition to developing the legal research, together they held interviews where more than 5,000 Venezuelans interacted with the lawyers and asked questions to better understand how to navigate their current situations.

Speaking about this collaboration, Isabella Huertas, lawyer at Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uria, the coordinating law firm of this project, said: “Thanks to this guide, Un Mundo Sin Mordaza hosted events where Venezuelans could explain their situations, and for us, as lawyers, it’s easier to quickly explain what they can do – there are alternatives that can be easily explained and can help someone improve their life quality.”

Echoing her words, Rodrigo Damianti, president of Un Mundo sin Mordaza, said: “This was all teamwork, where private law firms helped a human rights NGO generate more impact and benefits to Venezuelan migrants seeking a brighter future in other countries, migrants who often feel alone.”

He added: “Through this project, along with TrustLaw and the law firms involved we believe we could help Venezuelans so that, when migrating, they can make informed decisions and know they have our support.”

TrustLaw is currently supporting Un Mundo sin Mordaza with the development of the second part of this guide, which will cover additional host countries.

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