Home LATEST NEWS Welcoming 6 million Venezuelan migrants: a regional challenge

Welcoming 6 million Venezuelan migrants: a regional challenge

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To escape poverty, 20% of the country’s population went into exile. The Organization of American States (OAS) estimates that Venezuelan migrants could reach 7 million in 2022 if the borders, closed due to the pandemic, were reopened.

The countries of the region bear the heaviest burden. Colombia and Peru alone host more than half of the exiles.

Taken aback at first, the host countries have adapted their response over the years, supported by international organizations. Beyond basic needs, it is now a question of enabling these millions of people to rebuild their lives.

Latin America had never faced a displacement of this magnitude, explains Olga Sarrado, regional spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Asylum systems were not prepared to deal with it.

Priority: regularization

Nearly half of Venezuelan migrants do not have legal status in the countries where they are. They are therefore vulnerable to all kinds of abuse, especially from employers.

Providing them with legal recognition should be a priority for receiving countries, argues Olga Sarrado.

What protects refugees and migrants is having access to basic services, such as health, education and employment, so that they can start their lives over with dignity. »

A quote from Olga Sarrado, UNHCR spokesperson.

This is a major change for these countries, which must rethink their entire institutional architecture, explains Diego Chaves-Gonzalez, head of the Latin America and Caribbean initiative at Migration Policy Institute, in Washington.

With 1.8 million Venezuelans established in the country, Colombia is on the front line.

In February 2021, the Colombian government announced that it would grant a temporary protection status valid for 10 years to Venezuelans settled in the country and to those who will enter it on a regular basis during the next two years. This will provide access to services and employment for more than one million people.

Ecuador and Peru have also repeatedly granted temporary special permits to Venezuelan migrants in recent years.

Chile, for its part, recently tightened the rules and deported dozens of undocumented migrants.

Growing xenophobia

Public opinion is less and less favorable to the massive arrival of migrants.

A crowd waving Chilean flags surround burning mattresses and other objects.

A protest against Venezuelan migrants turned violent in Iquique, Chile on September 25, 2021.

Photo: Getty Images / MARTIN BERNETTI

This is the biggest problem facing them, says Veronica Zambrano, director for South America of Plan International, a humanitarian organization with a strong presence in the region.

The pandemic has exacerbated mistrust. Due to the lockdown, millions of people have lost their jobs in Latin America.: \”on top of this economic, political and social crisis, we have Venezuelans coming to take our jobs, fill hospitals and schools”,”text”:”People say: \”on top of this economic crisis , political and social, we have the Venezuelans who come to take our jobs, fill the hospitals and the schools”}}’>People say: “in addition to this economic, political and social crisis, we have Venezuelans coming to take our jobs, fill hospitals and schools“, emphasizes Ms. Zambrano.

Migrants, the vast majority of whom were already working in informal and casual jobs, have seen their situation deteriorate with the pandemic. It has become a life saver, says Mr. Chaves-Gonzalez. The pandemic has been the catalyst for an outbreak of xenophobia.

Some 87% of Venezuelan migrants established in Colombia earned less than the legal minimum wage in October 2020. Their incomes have halved since the start of the pandemic, according to the International Organization for Migration.

A number of them have also returned to Venezuela, saying to themselves that if they were going to starve to death abroad, they might as well do it at home. Some 140,000 Venezuelans thus returned to their country in 2020. But many of them are now returning to exile.

families and young people

These returnees are part of the groups of migrants that we meet on the border of Peru and Ecuador, reports Rodrigo Valderrama, head of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Tumbes, northern Peru. He sees new arrivals there, who are migrating directly from Venezuela for the first time, but also migrants who have already lived for some time in Colombia or Ecuador and who continue their journey south in search of better prospects for the future. .

A man is walking in a desert area with a suitcase on his shoulders.

Many Venezuelans cross the border between Bolivia and Chile at Colchane, an arid region at 3600 m altitude.

Photo: Getty Images / MARTIN BERNETTI

Those who can afford it take the bus and sleep at the hotel, but many others walk the 5000 kilometers that separate them from Venezuela, a journey that can take between 5 and 40 days, depending on the help they get on the road.

Since the borders are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they use irregular crossing points, with all the dangers that this represents. The officers of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees advise them on their options, including procedures for seeking asylum, but also on their rights and the road ahead.

We inform them about the risks, explains Rodrigo Valderrama.meters above sea level; so you have to be well dressed. Those who head instead towards Chile via Tacna will cross a desert region where there are antipersonnel mines. We give them the information so that they can make an informed decision.”,”text”:”People who want to go through Desaguadero to go to Bolivia should know that this is an area 4000 meters above sea level. altitude; so you have to be well dressed. Those who head instead towards Chile via Tacna will cross a desert region where there are antipersonnel mines. We give them the information so they can make an informed decision.”}}’>People who want to go through Desaguadero to go to Bolivia should know that it is an area at 4000 meters above sea level; so you have to be well dressed. Those who head instead towards Chile via Tacna will cross a desert region where there are antipersonnel mines. We give them the information so they can make an informed decision.

About a third of the Venezuelans who pass through Tumbes do not plan to settle in Peru, but rather to continue their journey to Chile.

Access to education and health

Other priority issues for migrants are access to education and health. As more and more families settle in host countries, children need to be educated. However, according to a survey conducted by the non-governmental organization Plan international with young Venezuelan girls in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, 28% of them do not go to school because they do not have the required documents or the means to pay school fees.

There is a need to strengthen borders and better understand the logic of human mobility in the region, he points out.

The recent case of Haitians leaving Brazil and Chile for the United States illustrates well the fact that, if the doors close to the south, the migrants could decide to take the northern route. If we want to avoid this, we will have to conclude more inclusive regional agreements, he thinks, and put in place more inclusive policies to combat rampant xenophobia.

When integration fails in one country, this can generate displacement to other countries. »

A quote from Diego Chaves-Gonzalez, Head of the Latin America and Caribbean Initiative at Migration Policy Institute

A record number of migrants from Venezuela arrived at US borders last year: 47,752 Venezuelans were intercepted there in 2021, down from just 1,227 in 2020.

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