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#SOSVenezuela: migrants or refugees?

The Venezuelan migratory crisis has the potential to surpass that of Syria. We are faced with a huge regional refugee crisis, not a mere wave of economic migration. Español

There appears to be no end in sight for the massive Venezuelan diaspora throughout the region of the Americas and in Spain. The uncertainty surrounding the profound crisis in Venezuela (political, economic, social, sanitary, and security) is alarming for boithe Venezuelans and neighbouring countries. The migratory crisis, and its regional dimension, is one of its most dramatic manifestations to date. 

Although it does not seem like it, the dimensions of this migratory crisis are similar to the one unfolded by of Syrians flleeing the war that affected the EU between 2016-2017, and it looks set to surpass it.

In many cases, we are facing a refugee crisis -as has been recognised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees- not a mere wave of economic immigration. Consequently, most Venezuelan migrants must be treated accordingly.

The current exodus has shot up from 89,000 to 900,000 people in two years (2015 – 2017) according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), although the reality may be much worse: between 1.6 and 4 million around the beginning of 2018 according to Migration Policy Centre.

This is what you should know about the migratory crisis:

Colombia is the main destination 

Chile, Argentina, Spain, Costa Rica, Brazil and above all, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia are the main destinations of those fleeing from Venezuela, however Colombia is the country that has received the most Venezuelans.

It is estimated that more than one million Venezuelans live in Colombia today, of which half a million are undocumented according to Migración Colombia. Colombia has provided permits to 181,000 Venezuelans that allow them to reside legally in the country through a special residency permit program. 

These high levels of irregular migration expose migrants to situations of exploitation, rejection and xenophobia that will only worsen over time, creating social tensions that could overflow.

These high levels of irregular migration expose migrants to situations of exploitation, rejection and xenophobia that will only worsen over time, creating social tensions that could overflow. The migration policies of recently elected president Iván Duque remain uncertain, however his categorical rejection of the Maduro regime and a potential diplomatic siege indicate that relations could be cut off completely.

This would leave hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees that are fleeing from food/medicine shortages, extortion, and violence in limbo (with 89 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, Venezuela is the most violent country of the region).

Women and children suffer the most

There are human beings behind the numbers shown in the statistics and every migrant or refugee has a story to tell. Of course, the most vulnerable suffer the most.

The stigmatisation of Venezuelan women, accused in many countries of migrating to become prostitutes, is the vitriol of an inequality that leaves migrant women in a position that is much more precarious upon leaving their countries to migrate abroad. 

According to Save The Children, by 2017, the amount of child Venezuelan refugees had already reached 600,000. 

According to Save The Children, by 2017, the amount of child Venezuelan refugees had already reached 600,000. It is fundamental to recognise the devastating effects this migratory crisis has on the rights of these children and the women who often accompany them. 

Will the migration end?

Some analysts think that the peak of the migratory wave has already been and gone, however, the exit of thousands of Venezuelans will only continue as long as Maduro remains in power and his ability to lift the country out of crisis is highly limited.

Migratory controls in Colombia and Brazil could harden, and regional governments could start to impose stronger sanctions in order to increase pressure on Maduro and force him to abandon the presidency.

However, for many, it is also possible that this wave of mass migration is an intended consequence that acts as an escape valve for the Maduro government by distancing those against the regime from Venezuela whilst simultaneously boosting the economy with family remittances.

One dollar today is a fortune in the impoverished Venezuelan economy and remittances ensure that the lives of those who stay behind are more bearable. 

A change in regional strategy regarding the crisis

Some analysts indicate that a strategy of dollarisation of the economy and of national unity that is capable of incorporating opposition leaders into the regime could be a way for Maduro to remain in power, creating an illusion of normality that continues expelling those who suffer from the economic and political crisis towards other countries.

A necessary first step to alleviating this catastrophic situation would be to consider it as a regional refugee crisis, and thus treat them accordingly. 

In any case, this desperate flight of hundreds of thousands of individuals will potentially have disastrous consequences for the region in the medium and long term. In the short term, the situation has become a humanitarian crisis. A necessary first step to alleviating this catastrophic situation would be to consider it as a regional refugee crisis, and thus treat them accordingly. 

The IOM and other regional organisations are preparing reports for the next G-20 summit in Argentina in which they warn of the situation and the need for governments to recognise that what we are facing is not an economic exodus but a regional refugee crisis like never before in Latin America. 

Argentina and the WTO are resisting discussions regarding Venezuela during the summit, but the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans that are fleeing from their country that lack documents constitute a ghost population exposed to many risks.

The hope of these individuals being considered as refugees, acquiring the right to be recognised as such, and receiving protection from the countries they flee to according to the Declaration of Cartagena of 1985 is a fight that must continue. 

About the author

DemocraciaAbierta es la plataforma global que publica en español, portugués e inglés voces de América Latina y más allá, y las conecta con el debate global de openDemocracy. Twitter: @demoAbierta

DemocraciaAberta é a plataforma global publicado em vozes espanhol, português e inglês da América Latina e além, e se conecta ao debate global na openDemocracy. Twitter: @demoAbierta

DemocraciaAbierta is the global platform that publishes in Spanish, Portuguese and English voices from Latin America and beyond, and connects them with the openDemocracy global debate.Twitter: @demoAbierta

 


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