Venezuela Refugee Crisis

Author: Sherry Nguyen
Editor: MinhAnh Nguyen

According to the Migration Policy Institute, more than 5 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants have fled their country, making this become the world’s biggest recent displacement crisis [1]. The mass exodus ensues from the disastrous mismanagement of Venezuela under the Nicolas Maduro administration.

According to the United Nations (UN) Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, the Venezuelan economy has collapsed to the point that millions cannot afford the bare minimum of food, water, and health care. (Cortes, 2019) [2].

Source: UNICEF Ecuador 2018, Flickr [9]

Profile Of Venezuelan Refugees And Migrants In Latin America & The Caribbean

While the mass exodus ensues for the same reason, the population of Venezuelan refugees are far from homogeneous demographically. According to the Migration Policy Institute, Venezuelans who headed to Venezuela’s closest neighbors—Brazil, Colombia, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago—are likely to be younger and single, and tend to have lower educational attainment than Venezuelans who moved to other further countries such as Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Uruguay [3].

Source: Authors’ tabulation of IOM data from the DTM, collected between January and December 2019, and shared with MPI. [3]

Crisis Response

In response to the crisis, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is calling upon nations to help support Venezuelan migrants including Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Guyana, etc. (UN Refugee Agency 2020) [4].

Source: Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela,[i]  [9]

However, these host countries are reportedly reaching a saturation point. The influx of refugees has put a strain on their available resources and consequently provoked sporadic xenophobic reactions among the natives, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. These conundrums have barred the refugees from receiving legal status and adapting to a new life in new environments.  

Besides, humanitarian aid received by each Venezuelan is about $125, which is less than a tenth of the aid per person dedicated to the Syrian crisis (about $1,500 per refugee), making the Venezuelan refugee crisis “the largest and most underfunded in modern history.” (Bahar and Dooley 2019) [5].

Source: Created by the author with data from R4V 2020 report, the R4V website, R4V platform data, and Human Rights Watch for updated information on Venezuelans with pending asylum claims in the United States. The number of Venezuelans in Colombia is as of September 2020 (USAID 2020b). [10]

According to the table, Columbia is the biggest host country for Venezuelan refugees. Colombia had left its borders open for the refugees. Therefore, it is relatively easy to cross, although COVID-19 has caused Colombia to temporarily close all of its land borders. As a matter of fact, these two countries share a common history of accepting refugees, as Venezuela used to take in Colombian refugees (World Politics 2019) [6]. Of those who have received regular status, approximately 12 percent have been granted permanent or humanitarian visas and 88 percent have been granted Special Stay Permits that allow them to remain and work in Colombia. (Response 4 Venezuela, 2020, 70) [7].

In addition, Venezuelan migrants and refugees are also allowed to access Colombia’s universal healthcare system and education system. On August 5, 2019, Colombian President Ivan Duque declared that all Venezuelan children born in Colombia since 2015 would automatically receive Colombian citizenship, in order to protect them from becoming stateless (Acosta, Cobb and Lewis 2019) [8].

UNHCR’s Further Actions In Response To The Crisis

In response to the Venezuela refugee crisis, UNHCR has established networks of volunteers to strengthen their links with the communities and guarantee two-way communication and accountability, while working with different population groups, including women, children, elderly people, young people and people with disabilities as well as indigenous and LGBTI groups. Besides, as aforementioned, the influx of refugees has prompted xenophobia among natives from host countries.

In an attempt to curb xenophobia against Venezuelan refugees and advocate solidarity, UNHCR, in coordination with partners, has launched several campaigns in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Peru [4].

Image: Photo by Jonathan Mendez on Unsplash

Venezuela Refugee Crisis
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