Migration from Venezuela

Venezuela is experiencing the worst migration crisis in recent Latin American history. Migrants are fleeing from food shortages, hyperinflation, a collapsing economy, disease and violence. The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has gone relatively unnoticed. According to the UNHCR 5,000 migrants are leaving every day: if this rate continues some 1.8m people, more than 5 per cent of Venezuela’s population, will depart this year.

Venezuela’s implosion has been building for some time and is becoming an international disaster. For decades, Venezuela was a net importer of people, attracting North Americans and Europeans with lucrative oil jobs. A generation ago, it was the wealthiest country in Latin America. However, when Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, launching the socialist ‘Bolivarian revolution’, some wealthy Venezuelans left, fearing Cuban-style communism. But the vast majority stayed and many enjoyed the benefits of Mr Chávez’s oil-financed social programmes. It is only recently, with the economy collapsing that Venezuelans have departed en masse.

The crisis in numbers

13,000%
Predicted rate of inflation in Venezuela this year, according to the IMF. The economy is expected to contract once again
66%
Rise in pregnancy-related deaths in a year. Infant mortality also rose 30%
79%
Percentage of Venezuelan hospitals that have little or no running water

There are now more than 600,000 Venezuelans in Colombia, twice as many as a year ago. While Colombia has borne the brunt of the Venezuelan exodus it is far from alone. The UNHCR says 40,000 Venezuelan migrants arrived in Peru in the first two months of 2018. Some 70,000 Venezuelans have fled southwards to Brazil. Thousands more have emigrated to Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Spain, the USA and the Caribbean.

The border between Colombia and Venezuela
Source: Wilsanmo, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum abroad has rocketed by 2,000 per cent since 2014.

The collapse of the Venezuelan health system has prompted a resurgence of long-vanquished diseases. The number of malaria cases had jumped 76 per cent in a year, pregnancy-related deaths had risen 66 per cent and infant mortality had climbed 30 per cent. The days when the Chávez government prided itself on decent medical care for the poor are long gone.

The British Medical Journal recently reported an acute shortage of contraceptives, “contributing to spikes in unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, maternal and infant mortality and sexually transmitted diseases”. HIV and Aids rates have risen in Venezuela to levels not seen since the 1980s. Measles, eradicated in much of Latin America, has returned. Of the 730 confirmed cases in the region last year, all but three were in Venezuela. As people flee, they are taking the disease with them. In the first months of this year, there were 14 confirmed cases in Brazil and one in Colombia. All 15 victims were Venezuelan migrants.

The infant mortality rate is on a par with Pakistan and the poverty rate of 85 per cent in on a par with Haiti and sub-Saharan Africa.

Poverty in Venezuela (% of population)

The irony of mass migration from Venezuela to Colombia is that, for decades, it was the other way around. During Colombia’s civil conflict, up to 4m people fled to then-stable-and-prosperous Venezuela.

As the number of migrants soars, tensions with local populations are rising, particularly in northern Brazil. The tightening of the border is only likely to drive up criminality, smuggling and trafficking, including sex trafficking.

It is difficult to see what might change in Venezuela to stem the exodus. The economy has contracted 40 per cent in five years and is forecast to shrink further still. The IMF predicts inflation to reach 13,000 per cent this year. The prospects do not look good for Venezuelans.

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