Refugee Crisis in Venezuela

Refugee Crisis, Political Predicament, and Current Conditions in Venezuela

Venezuela, a nation situated at the northern end of South America, is facing a serious humanitarian crisis at the moment. The refugee crisis in Venezuela is one of many adversities that the country is faced with. The economy of the nation, because it has collapsed with the leadership, is in question due to the political uprising of the opposition to President Nicolas Maduro. Around five million Venezuelan have left the country to find a better life alongside food and employment.

Routs of Refugees in the Refugee Crisis in Venezuela
Routs of Refugees in the Refugee Crisis in Venezuela

However, before we dive into the refugee crisis in Venezuela, we need to know a little bit about the country itself. The triangular country is larger than the combined regions of Germany and France. Caracas, the capital of Venezuela is the heart of education, tourism, commerce, and industry. The country administers several Caribbean Islands, like Margarita Islands, Los Monjes, La Tortuga and also claims jurisdiction closely over two-thirds of the land of Guyana.

The country is topographically rich as it contains the northern Andeans chains of mountains, the major part of the Orinoco river, the largest lake in South America, Lake Maracaibo, and the world’s largest waterfall Angel falls. Despite all that, the country is struggling with Latin America’s largest refugee crisis because of medicine and food shortages, violence, and hyperinflation driven by the political turbulence of recent years. Malaria and Cholera that were once eradicated have now returned followed by the death of children due to malnutrition and hunger. Therefore, today in this post, I’m going to try and make you aware of the refugee crisis in Venezuela.

Refugee Crisis in Venezuela

According to the report in October of the United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees (UNHCR), since 2014, around 5.5 million Venezuelans of estimated thirty-two million have escaped the country. Several people from Venezuela living abroad have remained uncounted. The causes of the Venezuelan refugee crisis 2020 involve economic, political, human rights, and humanitarian crises.

Refugee Crisis in Venezuela
Refugee Crisis in Venezuela

Many of the Venezuelans who are living abroad have an irregular status which results in undermining their chances to obtain work permits, lacking access to health care, sending their children to school, and living them open for abuse and exploitation. Many migrants have lost their jobs in the informal sectors as the government lockdowns occurred to stop the spreading of Covid-19. Around 130,000 made the arduous journey back to Venezuela, Several on foot.

In Venezuela, the returnees were held, sometimes for weeks in overly crowded places, posed as quarantine centers without any sanitary measurements that are likely to spread Covid-19. The authorities and the pro-government armed groups referred to as “colectivos” have verbally harassed, mistreated, and threatened the returnees.

Some Quick Facts about Refugee Crisis in Venezuela

  • According to the reports of the U.N.Children’s agency, the malnutrition of children has reached the crisis level in Venezuela.
  • The economy, as well as the health system, have collapsed which brought back diseases that were long gone like diphtheria, malaria, and measles, and are now spreading even across national boundaries as Venezuelan refugees.
  • The sources of the government have reported that the inflation rate in Venezuela has reached 10,000% in 2019.
  • Surpassing the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world.

The Political Predicament in Venezuela

Political unrest as one of the cause behind refugee crisis in Venezuela
Political Unrest

To understand the refugee crisis in Venezuela, we have to comprehend the political turmoil of the current South American country where President Nicolas Maduro and the main contender have been stuck in a bitter power dilemma. The lawmakers of the opposition have been prohibited to stand for office while some have gone to exile, others have been arrested. The country is captured in a downward spiral for years now with developing political disappointment that is fuelled by the shortage of medicine and food, escalating hyperinflation, and power cuts. 

The President of Venezuela

Though in many countries the question of who their President is, has a straightforward answer, Venezuela is still in a catch twenty-twenty condition since the opposition leader Juan Guaido announced himself as the acting president on 23rd January 2019. Juan Guaido threw an explicit challenge by this move to the authority of President Maduro who had just been sworn into another six-year term at the office two weeks prior to this.

Some countries say Nicolás Maduro (L) is the legitimate president while others are backing Juan Guaidó
Some countries say Nicolás Maduro (L) is the legitimate president while others are backing Juan Guaidó

Unsurprisingly, President Maduro has claimed to be the constitutional president and also said that the move was a conspiracy against him by the US to expel him. Though Mr. Guaido has tried to capture the power of the armed forces, they are largely loyal to President Maduro and his socialist government has a tight grip over the Supreme Court and the main electoral body.

The Reasons Behind the Disputed Presidency

After the death of the socialist mentor and the forerunner of Maduro, Hugo Chavez, he was elected and won as the President of Venezuela in 2013 by 1.6% points. Several Venezuelan blame him and his socialist policies as the economy crumbled in his first term. 

Opposition parties boycotted the second election and accused that the polls are neither fair nor free. The election had gone unrecognized by the National Assembly who argued that the President is a usurper and the post is vacant. It’s times like these that the National Assembly has to step it and Mr. Guaido declared himself to be the acting President. 

More than fifty countries including most countries of Latin America and the US identified Mr. Guaido as the legitimate president while China and Russia remained beside President Maduro.

What Can Break the Impasse?

Although Mr. Guaido has the most international support, he doesn’t wield much power in the country as it is in the hands of the armed forces who have continued to be loyal to President Maduro. The key player in this stalemate is the armed security forces who are paid and rewarded with high-ranking positions, and frequent rises in payment. In 2019, there were talks held between the opposition and the government but it made no progress.

Maduro frequently visits troops and has praised the armed forces for their continued loyalty to his government.
Maduro frequently visits troops and has praised the armed forces for their continued loyalty to his government.

The government of the US has imposed on the country and tried to weaken and oust Mr. Maduro from his inner circle but to no avail. As per some analysts, Mr. Maduro’s government has been acting as a mere scapegoat for the dire condition of the Venezuelan economy.

Questions about the Refugee Crisis in Venezuela

What caused the Venezuelan Refugee Crisis?

Food Crisis is a reason behind refugee crisis in Venezuela
Venezuela’s food crisis
Credit: The New Yorker

The reasons behind the refugee crisis in Venezuela are violence, hyperinflation, and want of medicine and food. Once Venezuela was considered the richest country in South America because of possessing the largest oil reserves in the whole world. However, more than a decade of poor governance and refuting oil revenue have led to the Venezuelan economic crisis and the authorities still have been unable to provide adequate services. 

Where are the Venezuelan Refugees going?

Several Venezuelans are taking refuge in the neighboring nations. Out of five million who have fled the country, approximately 4.2 million have remained in the Caribbean and Latin America. The highest concentration of refugees is in Columbia where 1.8 million Venezuelans have been relocated.

How is the Refugee Crisis in Venezuela Affecting the Children?

Refugee Crisis in Venezuela is affecting children
Refugee Crisis in Venezuela is Affecting Children
Credit: UNICEF

Children are at the most vulnerable position in the refugee crisis in Venezuela. As the stock of food is dwindling to nothing, the risk of hunger and death of the children is getting higher. They also face the danger of harm and exploitation while escaping the country with their families. According to the staff of World Vision who are leading the response to the crisis, the children who have fled Venezuela need immediate humanitarian help. Most girls deal with gender-based violence and the risk of trafficking in mass-immigration predicaments like this.

For further information on the daily lives of the refugees in the pandemic, please read this

Venezuela Refugee Crisis Timeline

  • The 1920s to 1970s: The largest reserves of oil are discovered and the economy of the country is relying on the rising export prices and the benefits.
  • The 1980s to 1990s: As the prices of oil fall worldwide, the economy of Venezuela contracts. The nation faces huge debt.
  • 1998: The former leader of a coup attempt, Hugo Chavez is elected President who promises to utilize the wealth of the oil to better the lives of the poor.
  • The 2000s: Though President Chavez spreads social services, the corruption is unrestrained and the decrease in oil production reduces the reserves and maximizes the debt.
  • 2010 to 2012: The attempt of Chavez to reform the economy such as price control and devaluation of the currency remains inefficient.
  • 2013: At age fifty-eight, President Chavez passes away of cancer after ruling the country for fourteen years. His chosen successor Vice President Maduro narrowly wins the election and the National Assembly gives him the authority of an emergency President for one year, starting in November.   
  • 2014: Due to low oil prices the budget of the public services is diminished. The inflation rate is over fifty percent each year. The protests against the government are escalating with enough power.
  • 2015: The opposition party Democratic Unity wins and ends the control of the Socialist Party over the National Assembly for sixteen years.
  • 2016: The fund for the healthcare system is wanting and the economy is crashing down. Unemployment, maternal and child mortality, hunger, and infectious diseases are increasing rapidly.
  • 2017: The government of Madura forms a new legislative body that claims the position to pass the law. Repression against the anti-government protests leaves more than a hundred dead.
Anti-government protests in Venezuela turns violent
Anti-government protests in Venezuela turns violent
Credit: The New York Times
  • 2018: Maduro is elected as a President again and to deal with hyperinflation, President Maduro cuts down five zeroes from the face values of the old currency and connects the new “sovereign bolivar to a cryptocurrency that can’t be traded.” Nearly three million people have migrated because of the lack of food and medicine and the economic crisis. 
  • 2019: President Maduro is sworn in for another six-year term while Juan Guaido declares himself to be the acting President constitutionally. 
  • 2020: The lives of Venezuelans become even difficult because of the spreading of CoronaVirus all over Latin America.

Venezuelan Migration Crisis or Refugee Crisis in Venezuela?

There’s a difference between a refugee and a migrant though both of them can seek asylum outside of their nations. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, While refugees are compelled to escape their country to save their lives and freedom, migrants can be anyone who moves from one country to another. The reason can be anything from visiting family to find employment to fleeing from a natural disaster. However, migrants have to abide by the unique process and law of the country they move to.

Even though officially, the asylum seekers need to apply for long-term status and protection in the country they escape to and refugees can enjoy only short-term ones. Unregistered migrants don-t get the same legal benefits and protections from their host country. The refugee crisis in Venezuela mostly contains some refugees and migrants escaping from the threat of violence and most of them have received legal asylum in their new countries. 

When did the Venezuelan Crisis Start to Get this Bad?

Though the various social issues in Venezuela were there for a long time, the public seems to be currently angry at the government of President Maduro and his precursor Hugo Chavez. In 1999, when Chavez became President, he had promised to decrease the level of inequality. While he reduced some of the inequality during his authority, the social policies he practiced were backfired.

Hyperinflation in Venezuela as a cause of refugee crisis in Venezuela
Hyperinflation in Venezuela

For instance, price control where they cut off the price of toiletries, flour, and cooking oil to decrease the price of baked goods for the poor. But, instead, it stopped the supply because of the lack of profit that led to shortages. In 2003, the loosening of the foreign currency helped with the shortages as traders can trade their products with dollars but the goods remained unaffordable to the poor or those who don’t have the US currency.

Decades of lack of investment in the infrastructure of the oil reserves were worsened by the US sanction on the oil sector which crumbled the key industry of the country. Hyperinflation became one of the biggest problems of the Venezuelan economic crisis which became one of the main reasons for the refugee crisis in Venezuela.

What are the Current Critical Necessities of the Venezuelans?

Now the question is what to do in supporting Venezuela? The answer lies in the suggestions of Caroline Kronely of The Tinker Foundation.

  • Find your focus: With the increasing number of problems due to the refugee crisis in Venezuela, funders have to find their focus on one cause in one of the vulnerable communities that align with their priorities like LGBTQ+Populations, children of school-age, people dealing with diabetes, or HIV/AIDS, indigenous people, etc.
  • Help the Venezuelans in the US: Though the US has received far few refugees from Venezuela, they have received enough asylum applications, over thirty thousand in just 2018. The funders can help the growing shelters or organizations for Venezuelans in the U.S like in New York, Florida, or elsewhere.
  • Invest in local civil society: The local civil society responded to the refugee crisis in Venezuela first and foremost, so they deserve the support and visibility. Noticeably, the leader and staff are Venezuelan in local civil societies in countries like Peru, Brazil, Columbia.

For further information on how to help Venezuelans, visit here.

Refugee Crisis in Venezuela
Refugee Crisis in Venezuela

Here, we’re at the end. And I’m still wondering why is such a severe and vast humanitarian crisis attracting such low international response? Refugee emergencies in Myanmar, Syria, and South Sudan all triggered help from the donor countries. In contradiction to that refugee crisis in Venezuela still remains desperately underfunded despite being the largest humanitarian crisis in contemporary history. 

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