South America has a new migration crisis. Nearly a million Venezuelans have left their home country in the last 2 years, although some claim it is as many as 4 million. On 12 March 2018, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated that a very significant proportion of those who had left were in need of international protection. Spiralling inflation, crime and state oppression, coupled with the lack of basic goods, have caused this exodus. Since August 2017, 250,000 Venezuelans have surged into Colombia. In recent months, more than 70,000 have entered Brazil, triggering a state of emergency in Roraima state.
There are warnings that the Venezuelan refugee crisis could surpass Syria’s in scale and speed. The number of Venezuelans leaving their own country could be more than those who left Cuba during Castro’s rule (1.5 million) and has already exceeded those who left during the El Salvadorian War of the 1980s (500,000 internally displaced; 500,000 displaced to other countries). Venezuelans have scattered as far as Colombia, Panama, Peru and Brazil. In January 2018, the Venezuelan government blocked all traffic to and from the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao in response to the numbers of fleeing Venezuelans. Polls have shown that over half of young Venezuelans remaining in the country want to flee abroad permanently.
These migrants are subjected to difficult conditions at home and little better awaits them abroad. 3,000 troops were deployed to northern Brazil after two buildings housing Venezuelan migrants were burned down. Refugees now represent 10 percent of the population of Roraima’s capital, Boa Vista, putting immense pressure on public services. In Colombia, authorities are conducting operations to severely limit the numbers crossing the border. Guyana has already imposed border controls in response to civilians and military units crossing over in search of food and supplies. Panama deported 308 Venezuelans in January 2018, more than they had deported in the previous 6 years.
If action is not taken, this crisis will spiral further out of control. Venezuelans abroad face mistreatment, hunger and disease much as they did in Venezuela. Robust international measures must be put in place before this becomes a permanent full-blown refugee crisis.