The continuing exodus of millions of Venezuelans is reaching “a tipping point”. More than 5.6 million have left the country since 2015, when it had a population of 30 million, escaping political, economic and social hardships. But by the end of 2020, 3.9 million Venezuelans were designated as being displaced abroad without formal refugee status – but still judged in need of international protection. Stein said 1,800 to 2,000 people had been leaving Venezuela daily in the past three months, many taking dangerous paths out, including using people traffickers.
It has become the largest external displacement crisis in the region’s history, and the most underfunded.
Eduardo Stein, special representative of the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), explained, “Whatever fails in one of the largest and richest countries in the subcontinent is going to affect the rest of the region. Latin America will never be the same.”
He claimed “donor fatigue” threatened funding, saying: “This pandemic has hit very hard those developed countries who have been traditional donors.”
Last year’s UN response plan received less than half the $1.41bn requested. The Red Cross has said it needs to raise $264m to support Venezuelans and 17 host countries over the next three years.
Dany Bahar, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in Washington DC, told the Guardian there remained “a big gap” in help for Venezuelan refugees, compared with other modern crises, such as Syria. He said the total funding per capita for Syrian refugees was more than 10 times that for Venezuelans – at $3,150 compared with $265, based on figures for 2020. Venezuela is second only in the world to Syria in terms of external displacement. The majority of refugees are being hosted in Latin America and the Caribbean. Colombia hosts more Venezuelans than any other country, accounting for 1.73 million people.
“Most of the host countries in the Venezuelan refugee crisis are in the region, and are developing countries,” Bahar said, “whereas Europe had much skin in the game in the case of the Syrians. Maybe that triggered much more generous funding.”
Roger Alonso Morgui, at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said the crisis was “not news any more”, adding: “When the big population movement happened a few years ago, there was still some attention. That now has become more silent in a way.”
Dominika Arseniuk, director in Colombia for the Norwegian Refugee Council, said, “International solidarity and financial support is woefully insufficient and falls desperately short of what is needed to respond to the mass exodus from Venezuela.”