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The Venezuelan Refugee Crisis Is Not Just a Regional Problem

Latin American Neighbors Are Pulling More Than Their Weight

A group of Venezuelan migrants who were walking through the Andes climb aboard a truck in Colombia, February 2019 FEDERICO RIOS ESCOBAR / The New ​York Times / REDUX

Venezuela’s refugee crisis is the largest in Latin American history. Worldwide, it is now second only to that of Syria. A staggering four million Venezuelans have fled their homeland, the majority since 2015. This number constitutes more than 12 percent of the country’s total population. Leaving behind a collapsed economy and mounting repression, over one million Venezuelans have fled since last November. The UN projects that the number of refugees will climb to 5.4 million by the end of 2019, while other researchers have predicted several hundred thousand more.   

No country in Latin America has escaped the impact of Venezuela’s meltdown. Colombia, which shares a long border with Venezuela, now hosts the largest number of refugees—1.3 million, up from about 300,000 just two years ago. Another 710,000 Venezuelans traveled through Colombian territory in 2018 in transit to other destinations farther south. Peru hosts the second-largest number of Venezuelans (806,900), followed by Chile (288,200) and Ecuador (263,000). Caribbean states have smaller totals but the most refugees relative to their population.

Yet only a fraction of the international assistance dedicated to other major crises has been devoted to the outpouring of Venezuelan refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and International Organization for Migration (IOM) asked the international community for $738 million to assist migrant-receiving countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2019. By early July, international donors had contributed a scant 23.7 percent of the requested funds. The shortfall, in the words of one senior Bogotá-based aid worker, is a “recipe for disaster.” Eduardo Stein, the UN special representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, pointed out that “Latin American and Caribbean countries are doing their part to respond to this unprecedented crisis, but they cannot be expected to continue doing it without international help.”

None of the migrant-receiving countries in Latin America has the financial wherewithal to provide shelter, food, medical care, and employment to such large numbers of hungry and vulnerable people. Public health and education are already overextended and underresourced in many of the receiving countries,

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