Venezuela: the largest exodus of Latin America

Because of the country’s political and economic issues, 10% of Venezuela’s population has already left the homeland. Three million Venezuelans desperately fled to neighboring countries in Latin America, and the crisis continues by the day.

“I took them because they were my hope for being alive.” – Jose, Venezuelan refugee in Ecuador

Jose was just like you and me. He was a student earning a postgraduate degree in his home country. He is part of the LGBT community, and he had once hoped for a normal life.

The crisis in Venezuela changed this. Jose was facing extreme discrimination for his sexual orientation. He had HIV, but what ultimately made his condition worse was that the medication he needed was not available. For months, he was being treated with expired medication, bringing extreme risks to his health. In December 2018, he made the brave choice of moving to Ecuador, where he had no family.

“At the moment I am working as a waiter in a restaurant. Before coming, I was studying aesthetics and beauty. I couldn’t continue due to the lack of resources and my desperation to get out of there. I would like to finish that and start my own business.”

Jose’s story is devastating. But his story is only one among 3 million other Venezuelan people.

Venezuela has traditionally been a host country for refugees within Latin America, but the tables have drastically turned because of the multi-faceted issues that arose in the past decade. People in Venezuela cannot even afford food, hygiene items, and basic healthcare. This constantly escalating issue results in people desperate to make it out of their country. In a crisis like this, it is hard to pinpoint a singular cause, and even harder to determine a definite solution.

What Happened in Venezuela?
The Venezuelan crisis encompasses both political and economic causes. The country’s unstable political atmosphere trickles down to their economy, as their GDP has fallen in the past five years and inflation is at an all time high. Venezuela was once one of Latin America’s richest countries due to being a source of oil. But since 2012, their economy has continued to plummet. The severe inflation is causing the whole nation to go hungry. The medicine shortage also took a toll on people’s health. A multitude of Venezuelans are desperate to leave the country just to get away from this scarcity.

“I came here without a single coin. I had nothing in my pocket. Absolutely nothing. Not even to take the bus or make a call.”

–Kelvin, Venezuelan refugee to Lima, Peru

The protracted migration crisis

Since 2014, the outflux of refugees from Venezuela have increased by 4000%. Over 3 million Venezuelan people have fled to neighboring countries, namely Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru and the southern Caribbean. These states have generously received the Venezuelans, even though a good number of them still remain undocumented. Colombia, the state that borders Venezuela, provides access to their territory, legal residence, and basic rights for the Venezuelans who arrive at their border. UNHCR acknowledges these effort especially with the recent registration of more than 400,000 Venezuelan refugees in Colombia. 

“We went through the same that they are going through. We were hungry as well. So it moved us to see that, after what we experienced, they are experiencing it too, and we offered them support.” – Marnellis, previously displaced Colombian

Current Events in 2019

At present, thousands of Venezuelans are still fleeing from their homes. They take irregular routes and some fall under the hands of armed groups. People often cross through muddy pathways or even swim through the Tachira River, one of the main rivers that separate lands of Colombia and Venezuela. In the process, they become susceptible to violence, human trafficking, and other forms of exploitation.

Last 23 February, Venezuela officially closed its land borders to neighboring countries Colombia and Brazil, as an attempt to control the outflux of their people. This didn’t stop them from leaving. There are security forces watching over the borders but they struggled to stop more than 40,000 people who leave all at once.

With the recent rain flooding the footpaths and the river, people have no choice but to march through the unstable Simon Bolivar International Bridge, which connects the Venezuelan city of San Antonio del Tachira and the small town of La Parada in Colombia. The extreme foot traffic in the area makes the journey more perilous, especially for the most vulnerable persons including pregnant women, children, and elderly with disabilities. 

What is UNHCR Doing to Help?

UNHCR has been heavily coordinating with host governments and partner organizations to support the Venezuelan refugees who continue to flee. We have supported Colombia in their legal registration of 440,000 refugees, and continue to provide core relief items for those who remain in other neighboring states. UNHCR has also strengthened its presence in key borders, in the pursuit of protecting more refugees with special needs, namely the pregnant women, children, and people of the LGBT community. In an effort to combat discrimination, we have also launched awareness campaigns in different countries that receive Venezuelan refugees. 

We continue to provide assistance to the refugees as much as we can, but there is still a lack of resources to help all of the most vulnerable 3 million people in South America.

“We are prepared people and we came to give our best. We did not come to take anything from anyone, but to contribute what we know, so we can all help each other.” – Mingsoe, Venezuelan refugee to Peru