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UNHCR warns that the Venezuelan migration crisis is no longer regional but “global”

August 27, 2019

Claim a “shared responsibility” against the exodus of Venezuelans internationally

BOGOTÁ, 27 Aug. (DPA / EP) –

As the economic crisis in Venezuela worsens, those who leave the country and arrive in Colombia make it even more in need of assistance, a head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned, defending that this crisis has ceased to be only regional in nature to become “global.”

“People arrive in more vulnerable conditions, so they require more humanitarian support,” explains the UNHCR deputy representative in Colombia, Yukiko Iriyama. Among the Venezuelan migrants who arrive there are pregnant women, malnourished children and people with disabilities, he emphasizes, so they represent an even greater burden for Colombia, a country that hosts more than 1.4 million Venezuelans.

The flow of arrivals recently increased as many Venezuelans attempted to cross Colombia to reach Ecuador before the need for a humanitarian visa to enter this country on Monday came into effect, says Iriyama.

The Colombian government says it has only received 96 million dollars of aid until mid-August to address this flow, 30 percent of what the UN estimates it needs this year. There has to be a greater “visibility” of the Venezuelan refugee crisis, which “was initially considered a regional situation for Latin America,” says the UNHCR official.

Latin America and the Caribbean currently host 80 percent of the 4.3 million Venezuelans who have left the country in recent years, according to UNHCR. Behind Colombia, the main host countries are Peru, with some 853,400 Venezuelans; Ecuador, with 330,400; Chile, with 288,200; Brazil, with 178,600, and Argentina, with 145,000.

“We ask for greater shared responsibility at the international level,” says Iriyama, who acknowledges that not all Venezuelans who have left the country can be considered refugees since “people leave for different reasons.”

However, a person does not need to have had to escape political persecution to be considered a refugee. Many Venezuelans lacked food and health care, both considered as fundamental rights, says Iriyama.

In addition, there are “serious public disturbances” in Venezula, which also contributes to many migrants being considered refugees, he adds.

Iriyama attributes Colombia's opening policy to the arrival of Venezuelans to the events of a decade ago, when Venezuela was a rich country and Colombians migrated there to escape the armed conflict in their country. “There is a feeling of brotherhood, of solidarity,” he summarizes.

In addition, Colombia “does not consider closing the border to be a solution,” adds the head of UNHCR. Many Venezuelans already enter Colombia illegally through routes in which they risk running into armed groups that recruit minors and with human trafficking networks, alert, stressing that closing the border would push more people to take those routes.

Finally, the UNHCR representative defends the need to integrate migrants into the labor market. According to a study by the World Bank “although this flow may have a (negative) impact on the economy in the first years (…) in the long term, if it is regularized and guarantees that people can work legally and contribute to the Colombia's economy, then they become something positive, “he says.