About 3.3 million people have fled Venezuela since 2015 and the United Nations estimates about two million more could follow in 2019. Every day, about 5,000 Venezuelans leave home in one of the biggest exodus of people in modern South American history.
"I know what it's like to have to leave home with nothing. I've
experienced the suffering, the hunger, Venezuelans are going through,"
Muentes told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It breaks my heart seeing
children beg for food. I had to do something to help," said Muentes, who
provides free shelter in her home in the border city of Cucuta.
In total about one in every 10 people in Venezuela have fled their
country in the past three years, with about one million now living in
Colombia, 500,000 in Peru, 222,000 in Ecuador, 130,000 in Argentina and
85,000 in Brazil, as well as tens of thousands living in several
"There's a sense of solidarity, which is very admirable," said Jan
Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. "The 35
countries in Europe collectively panicked because one million people
came to 35 countries in 2015 across the Mediterranean. Now five nations
in Latin America received three million and they still haven't closed
Not surprisingly though, there are signs the solidarity and good will is
waning in countries which are already battling poverty and weak
economies. Xenophobia has increased, including reports of attacks
"There's no adequate education or assistance programs, which means that
there will be more social tension within the group and between the
groups, in the host communities," Egeland said.
Colombia's schools, hospitals and other services are struggling to
cope. The arrival of Venezuelan immigrants costs Colombia about 0.5
percent of its gross domestic product per year - equivalent to $1.5
billion. Ecuador has said it needs about $550 million to provide aid to
migrants. More than 65,000 Venezuelans have requested asylum in Brasil
so far, where tensions have also arisen. This month, Chile refused to
sign a U.N. migration pact aimed at improving migrant integration and
protection. Chile also now requires Venezuelans to apply for entry at
consulates in Venezuela and to show a passport, which many do not have.
The number of slums in Chile, one of Latin America's most prosperous and
stable economies, has nearly doubled since 2011, the government said on
Wednesday, as an influx of migrants increasingly face a lack of
low-income housing and rising rents. Chile's Housing Ministry said it
had identified 822 slums in Chile that largely lack access to basic
services like water, sewage disposal and electricity, an increase of 78
percent from 2011. The slums comprise a total of 46,423 homes, the
ministry said in a statement, of which only 10 percent had access to
Chile and other comparatively wealthy Latin American nations are
absorbing a wave of mass migration from destitute nations in the region
such as Haiti and Venezuela, increasing demands on social services.
Immigration into Chile has increased more than sixfold in around 25
years, from 114,500 in the 1992 census to 746,465 last year. The
government attributes the rise in slums to the high cost of housing in
the northern third of the country, where many migrants enter Chile.
"I think the humanitarian response and funding, and even diplomatic
interest, in this crisis has really lagged behind," said Amanda
Catanzano, senior director of advocacy at aid group, International
Rescue Committee. "The scale of the crisis is staggering, the magnitude
and impact are still not understood. It's growing. And that's not
sustainable in the absence of a coordinated regional response, the likes
of which we really haven't seen yet."
Elsewhere in Latin America, thousands of migrants from Central America,
mainly El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, leave their homes every
year, fleeing gang violence, poverty and joblessness to seek a better
life in the United States.
"It's entire families. It's not anymore the youngest, the strongest,"
said Francesca Fontanini, spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency
(UNHCR). "The journey up north is much longer, more risky," Fontanini
said. "Since Trump, it's much more difficult to cross the border."
A new migrant crisis is unfolding in Nicaragua, where more than 300
people have been killed since April as the leftist government of Daniel
Ortega has responded, often brutally, to anti-government protests. The
crackdown has led to tens of thousands of Nicaraguans, many of them
students, pouring into neighbouring Costa Rica. More than 23,000 have
applied for asylum.
"They were lucky because Costa Rica immediately opened the doors," Fontanini said.
His prediction is that, "As long as people don't feel safe and have no food, they will keep coming. They have no other choice."