Jose Gomez / REUTERS Venezuelan refugees carry their belongings across the Tachira river border between Colombia and Venezuela, August 2015

Latin America Is Facing a Refugee Crisis

Why It Matters That We Call Fleeing Venezuelans Refugees, Not Migrants

Picture your salary and life’s savings depleted by hyperinflation. The local store is missing many basic food products, and the pharmacy has no stock of the medicines you need on a daily or weekly basis. The only hospital in town is nonfunctional because it doesn’t carry basic medical supplies and even lacks running water, and schools are closed because of a lack of electricity. You leave your hometown and travel more than 2,000 miles by foot to the capital of a neighboring country, entirely uncertain what your future holds. When you arrive, you’re greeted with a xenophobic speech by a local politician, who accuses you of stealing jobs from locals and committing crimes.

This scenario has become all too familiar to migrants and refugees in Latin America, where 2.6 million Venezuelans, the vast majority of them since 2015, have poured into neighboring countries such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru as conditions at home have become unbearable.

Most governments—Colombia’s being the lead example—have welcomed the Venezuelans with open arms, hastening to help them integrate into the local economy and initiating campaigns to combat xenophobia. However, in some countries—Peru and Brazil, for example—local populations and populist politicians have stoked fear and prejudice. This summer, rioters in the town of Boa Vista on the border of Brazil and Venezuela chanted, “Out, out, out! Go back to Venezuela!” as they tried to block the road that thousands of Venezuelans have been using to cross into Brazil. Reacting to the news of a violent robbery committed by a small handful of Venezuelans, Brazilian rioters set fire to the belongings of hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees, forcing many of them to turn back.

Such stories of resistance and hostility toward migrants have become familiar the world over. The arrival of millions of Syrians in Europe since 2011 has occasioned populist resentment that largely feeds on linguistic, cultural, and religious differences. But Latin American xenophobia toward Venezuelan migrants cannot be explained

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