South America has a new refugee crisis. Nearly a million Venezuelans have left their home country in the last 2 years, some claiming that the number may be as high as 4 million. On the 12th of March 2018, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated that a very significant proportion of those who had left were in need of international protection.
Venezuela’s refugee crisis is driven by the implosion of its economy and the collapse of law and order in the country. Since August 2017, 250,000 Venezuelans have surged into Colombia. In recent months, more than 70,000 have entered Brazil, triggering a state of emergency in Roraima state.
There are warnings that the Venezuelan refugee crisis could surpass Syria’s in scale and speed. The number of Venezuelans leaving their own country could exceed the 1.5 million who left Cuba during Castro’s rule, and has already exceeded the half million who fled El Salvador’s war during the 1980s.
Venezuelans have scattered as far as Colombia, Panama, Peru and Brazil. In January 2018, the Venezuelan government blocked all traffic to and from the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao in response to the numbers of fleeing Venezuelans. Polls have shown that over half of young Venezuelans remaining in the country want to flee abroad permanently.
These migrants are subjected to difficult conditions at home and little better awaits them abroad. 3,000 troops were deployed to northern Brazil after two buildings housing Venezuelan migrants were burned down. Refugees now represent 10 percent of the population of Roraima’s capital, Boa Vista, putting immense pressure on public services. In Colombia, authorities are conducting operations to severely limit the numbers crossing the border. Guyana has already imposed border controls in response to civilians and military units crossing over in search of food and supplies. Panama deported 308 Venezuelans in January 2018, more than they had deported in the previous 6 years.
Venezuelans fleeing the disintegration of Venezuela face many of the challenges they faced in Venezuela: human rights abuse, poverty, and disease. Only a massive and coordinated response to this crisis will prevent this refugee crisis from spiralling out of control.
More information on the Venezuela Campaign can be found on their website.