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The UN envoy for the Venezuelan migration crisis assumes there will be no short-term returns

December 6, 2019

Stein defends the reliability of the data and warns that, by 2020, the displacement crisis could surpass that of Syria

United Nations is considering organizing a donor summit for the first half of next year


More than 4.6 million Venezuelans have left their country in recent years, the result of a political and social crisis that, at the end of 2020, could cause an “exodus” of 6.5 million. The UN envoy for the emergency, Eduardo Stein, admits that, in the hypothetical case that there is a resolution to the internal crisis, the returns of migrants and refugees to Venezuela will not occur “at the same rate”, because which demands attention from the international community.

Stein, former Foreign Minister and former Vice President of Guatemala, assumed in September 2018 the commission to be the envoy of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for a crisis for which he does not see “short-term” resolution visas, given the political discrepancies that persist in Venezuela due to the pulse between the Government of Nicolás Maduro and the opposition flank led by the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó.

The UN envoy for the Venezuelan migration crisis assumes there will be no short-term returns
The UN envoy for the Venezuelan migration crisis assumes there will be no short-term returns

Without “lasting political solution,” the “exodus” will continue, according to Stein, which only admits “a little” decrease in the number of border crossings – a month and a half ago was around 5,000 departures a day. “Easily”, the data will exceed 5 million migrants in the short term and, at the end of next year, the numbers threaten to surpass those in Syria, he says.

The Maduro Executive has repeatedly questioned the validity of these statistics, but Stein underlines in an interview with Europa Press that they are “strictly official”, transmitted by the authorities of the different countries from the border crossings. The information, he explains, is shared in a “fairly disciplined” way, so he denies that the numbers may be inflated by the cases of migrants crossing several borders.

In addition, the data does not take into account clandestine crossings, says Stein, who nevertheless admits that there have been “claims” by the Government of Venezuela, with whom the UN maintains regular contact to resolve any possible discrepancies. Maduro has openly accused the United Nations of “lying” and in September said that in the last three years they had only left Venezuela “between 300,000 and 700,000” people.


Stein says that, whatever happens in the short and medium term, “Latin America will never be the same” after this crisis. The envoy acknowledges that the governments of the surrounding countries had a reaction of “extraordinary generosity” at first, but the situation has changed in recent months, with several countries demanding documentation that, in most cases, is “impossible get easily “.

The UN representative does not blame the various governments for the tightening of the measures, given that the national budgets are “exhausted” and the institutional response capacity is “widely exceeded.” In just one year, school demand in Peru has doubled in primary school with children from Venezuelan families, he says.

In this sense, he assures that the profile of the migrant is no longer that of a few years ago, when he who decided to leave Venezuela did so “not only with his own resources, but also with a fairly high level of training.” Now, the educational level is still “quite remarkable,” but “it is a population that leaves its country in extremely precarious conditions.”

The main challenge of this community is integration, in some cases facing the “discomfort” of local communities. “The chapter on socio-economic insertion is perhaps the one with the most political pressure in the host countries today,” Stein acknowledges.


In October, Brussels hosted the 'Solidarity Conference with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants', a forum in which 120 million euros were committed and in which, according to the UN envoy, the idea that the Venezuela's migration crisis corresponded to neighboring countries “of medium income” or, on a broader spectrum, to the United States and Canada.

In this sense, he states that in the Brussels meeting he perceived that there was “a general awareness of the crisis”, more “journalistic” than in the background. According to Stein, among his announcers “there was a reaction of astonishment” to know “the magnitude of this crisis and its complexity.”

Reuters / Luisa González

“It stopped being a subregional crisis a long time ago,” says the envoy, who fears that the effects will be achieved globally if it is not addressed “in an appropriate manner.” In this context, he considers that Spain has been one of the countries that “more practical concrete commitment” has historically had towards Latin America, with a vision “almost identical to what the Latin American countries are looking for” and that combines bilateral agreements with a regional approach .

Stein advocates separating “the political agenda” from the “technical demands” derived from migrants and refugees, as would already be done within the framework of the so-called Quito Process. Not surprisingly, responding to the emergency should not depend on possible internal advances in Venezuela: “At the beginning of the year it was believed that there could be a democratic political solution that has not occurred.”


The “waiting measure” in which the donors' agendas remained then also has in mind “what has been called the day after”, in which it will also be necessary to meet the internal needs of Venezuela. Stein foresees that “large resources and probably several years” will be necessary to overcome basic services and recover internal productivity, weighed down by a currency, the bolivar, whose value is “practically non-existent” for the domestic market.

Whatever happens, “we cannot assume (that the displaced population) will return with the same speed” with which he left, according to the international representative, who predicts that “a high percentage” of migrants and refugees late “even several years “in returning to Venezuela. And that “if it doesn't take root” in the host countries and chooses never to return.

The UN envoy anticipates that, “most likely”, the Brussels solidarity conference will lead to a donor summit “in the first half of 2020”, although he clarifies that it is still necessary to “choose an appropriate date and place” with which both donor countries and Latin American states agree.

One of the options that are being considered, although “it is still a very tentative topic”, is to make this conference coincide with the spring meetings of the World Bank in Washington.


The former Vice President of Guatemala does not work with any calendar, to the extent that he says he does not know when he will end his work as an IOM and UNHCR envoy. His initial term ended in May 2019, but the organization requested an extension in force until at least January 2020.

When that date arrives, it opens the door to continuity: “I could again commit myself to another section to the extent that it is seen that I can somehow be useful to this humanitarian diplomacy.” At the end of this stage, however, he discarded opting for another position of international relevance – he came to propose himself as a candidate to lead the Organization of American States (OAS) – or run in Guatemala, despite the fact that some “nut” has suggested so .

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