“We left everything in Venezuela. We don’t have a place to live or sleep and have nothing to eat.”
–Nayebis Carolina Figuera, a 34-year-old from Venezuela who fled to neighbouring Brazil
In the past, Venezuela hosted thousands of refugees from the region and other parts of the world. Now the number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela has surpassed 7 million globally, according to data from governments receiving them, making this the second-largest external displacement crisis in the world. A significant number of them are in need of international protection.
Many refugees and migrants from Venezuela are facing poverty and struggling to survive. The COVID-19 pandemic compounded an already difficult situation forcing Venezuelans deeper into poverty. Many families, forced to reduce their food intake, have taken on debts to be able to survive. They are at risk of evictions, exploitation and protection risks.
Amid economic hardships and political discontent in some countries, refugees and migrants can be scapegoated and stigmatized, with increasing competition for jobs and limited access to public services.
The majority of refugees and migrants from Venezuela arriving in neighbouring countries are families with children, pregnant women, elderly people and people with disabilities. Often obliged to take irregular routes to reach safety, they may fall prey to smugglers, traffickers and irregular armed groups. As more and more families arrive with fewer and fewer resources, they are in immediate need of documentation, protection, shelter, food and medicine.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans remain without any documentation or permission to stay regularly in nearby countries, and therefore lack guaranteed access to basic rights.
While host communities and countries in the region are committed to helping Venezuelans and have been generously welcoming them, they are increasingly overstretched. Several countries have initiated large-scale regularization processes to ensure refugees and migrants have access to rights and services. However, these efforts and gestures of solidarity require financial support to succeed and ensure no one is left behind.
“We walked for 11 days and had to sleep outside. We left because they threatened to kill us. My brother was killed… They almost killed me.”
–Ana, Venezuelan woman in Ecuador
What is UNHCR doing to help?
Throughout the region, UNHCR has stepped up its response and is working closely with host governments and partners, particularly IOM, to support a coordinated and comprehensive approach to the needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela. Concretely, we are collecting data to better understand the specific needs of Venezuelans; supporting States to improve reception conditions, coordinating the provision of information and assistance to meet Venezuelans’ immediate basic needs including shelter; and combating discrimination and xenophobia through awareness campaigns.
Notably, we have strengthened our presence along key borders to limit to the extent possible risks, in particular with regard to access to territory, trafficking, exploitation, and to identify people who may require dedicated protection and services, such as unaccompanied and separated children and pregnant women. UNHCR also provides support and legal orientation on arrival and distributes drinking water, and hygiene kits for women and children at border areas. Our teams also provide cash assistance to the most vulnerable Venezuelans.
UNHCR is also supporting government regularization efforts in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru Dominican Republic, Uruguay and other countries that are facilitating documentation and seeking solutions to regularize and offer protection to the Venezuelan population.
Across the region, UNHCR complements government efforts to provide emergency shelter for Venezuelans arriving in the border states and main cities. UNHCR has also installed child-friendly spaces and spaces for breastfeeding mothers at border crossing points and is advocating with host governments to facilitate access to education for Venezuelan children. UNHCR has established networks of volunteers to improve our links with the communities and ensure 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. In addition, UNHCR is coordinating with partners a regional Support Spaces initiative to ensure that refugees and migrants receive updated and reliable information and a minimum package of services in key locations across the region.
To promote the integration of refugees and migrants in their host communities, UNHCR works closely with local authorities and the private sector and supports the provision of vocational training to Venezuelans. UNHCR is also supporting the relocation of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the Brazilian state of Roraima to other parts of the country where there are more employment opportunities and services.
“It took us over seven days to reach Peru. We had nothing to eat at the end. We tried to spare all for our son, but he also went over 24 hours without a bite. He is only three.”
Gerardo, Venezuelan father in Peru
In an effort to curb xenophobia against Venezuelans, UNHCR, in coordination with partners, has launched several campaigns to promote solidarity.
Humanitarian assistance, as well as increased support for socio-economic inclusion, need to be urgently scaled up to complement government efforts and ensure communities continue to accept refugees and migrants in a safe and welcoming environment. To ensure a comprehensive UN-wide response, and to support the efforts of main receiving governments, the Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for the Venezuela situation – led by UNHCR and IOM – launched the Regional Response Plan for Refugees and Migrants (RMRP) from Venezuela in 2018. The plan, developed with partners and revised annually, aims to support the increasing needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela and their host communities across 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Reports and Links
- Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (January–December 2022)
- Urgent support needed as COVID-19 inflicts hardship on refugees and migrants from Venezuela (12 May 2020)
- US$1.35 billion needed to help Venezuelan refugees and migrants and host countries (13 November 2019)
- Death threats and disease drive more Venezuelans to flee (21 May 2019)
- Emergency plan for refugees and migrants from Venezuela launched (14 December 2018)
- Hunger, despair drive indigenous groups to leave Venezuela (7 August 2018)
- UNHCR Guidance Note on the Outflow of Venezuelans
- UNHCR Guidance Note on the Outflow of Venezuelans – Update I
- Inter-Agency Coordination Platform portal (R4V)