Surviving in Venezuela has gotten no easier with the turn of the new year. Venezuela’s political mismanagement of late has produced a human rights crisis in which citizens continue to lack reliable access to basic staples, such as food and medicine. Inflation continues to rise – predictions for the coming year suggest it may hit 13,000%. Venezuelans, facing a dire situation with no signs of speedy improvement, have begun to venture elsewhere in the hopes of finding an environment that allows the opportunity for a better life.
There has been out-migration from Venezuela, the Bolivarian diaspora, for over a decade, from the time of President Hugo Chávez, begun by the effects of the socialist revolution. This exodus has shot up in recent years as the political situation and quality of life have declined. It has been identified as a ‘different’ kind of migration crisis – one not due to violence, but rather socio-economic issues on a nation-wide scale, brought on by the actions of current president Nicolás Maduro’s government. Notably, it is the largest migration in the Americas to occur within the last generation, with at least an estimated 500,000 Venezuelans exiting the country so far in 2018. However, exact numbers are contested and estimates range widely in size and timeframe.
The Brookings Institute estimates that Colombia alone, dealing with the brunt of migrants, may have accepted roughly 2 million migrants from Venezuela since 2014. Colombia, struggling with its own issues of unemployment and social service provision, is forced to walk a tightrope between aiding individuals who desperately need it, and satisfying and providing for its own citizens. Humanitarianism yet again is in conflict with national obligation and protection, though Colombia has attempted to do both.
On February 8th of this year, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos added new security forces to the Colombia-Venezuela border and discontinued single-day entry cards for Venezuelans. The increased border control is a response to the anger of Colombians, who resent the influx of Venezuelans as further competition for a very limited supply of jobs and social services. However, Santos also announced the provision of a migration unit, to help serve and guide Venezuelan entrants, a limited but beneficial humanitarian response. In the hopes of softening local sentiment toward migrants, Santos reminded his citizens of the similar role Venezuela previously played in taking in roughly half a million Colombians escaping the turmoil of the Colombian civil war.
Columbia President Juan Manuel Santos. Source: Flickr.
President Santos has called for more to be done by the international community to aid migrating Venezuelans. The UN has offered resources to mitigate the sizeable burden on Colombia, and joint work has begun on reception centers for migrants. Santos outright criticized President Maduro as the root cause of the problem, citing Maduro’s previous refusals of humanitarian aid from Colombia and states worldwide. The Colombian president offers humanitarian rhetoric but limited action, as is common when a state attempts to bridge the gap between consciousness of a duty to aid and the reaction of its own struggling, and thus more protectionist, citizens.
Brazil, which has received lesser numbers of Venezuelan migrants, has paralleled the efforts of Colombia in the tightening of border security coupled with migration units, to help relocate Venezuelans from the border to the interior of Brazil to lessen local strain. Additionally, field hospitals have been created in the high-entry area of Roraima, as many entering Venezuelans are malnourished and unhealthy as a result of the poor access to basic goods in their country of origin. In Brazil, citizens similarly resent the addition of competitors for jobs and social services. Smatterings of conflict have broken out as Brazilians target migrants with acts of violence.
For Venezuelans, there seems to be little respite from turmoil and insecurity, at home or abroad. The humanitarian crisis in the region will only escalate should the Venezuelan government continue to refuse aid and change. Arguably, the best response for the international community is to do as President Santos has requested; increased international aid, namely as financial support, for migrants and the states receiving them. The automatic external response to the situation is to disparage countries in the region for a half-hearted humanitarian effort, and to ignore the economic and political realities of tensions induced by new, large flows of people into countries already under strain. If countries outside the region can help minimize the burden on local states, the situation will improve for not just migrating Venezuelans, but the regions of reception as well. Lessening local tension and promoting a positive, sympathetic perception of the incoming migrants allows migrants to be seen as they are; humans in need of help, escaping a national situation they do not have hope of improving.