By Nelson A. King
The United Nations says its migration agency has launched a regional action plan to bolster its response to massive population outflows from Venezuela amid the worsening political and socio-economic situation in the South American country.
As the exodus has considerably increased over the last two years, the UN’s the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday that an estimated 1.6 million Venezuelans were abroad in 2017, up from 700,000 in 2015, with 1.3 million in the Americas, including the Caribbean.
“The plan is tailored to specific national contexts across 17 countries including eight South American countries, six Caribbean countries, two Central American countries and Mexico,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM regional director for Central America, North America and the Caribbean.
IOM said the exodus is not letting up. For instance, it said more than 800 Venezuelans are estimated to be entering Brazil each day, bringing the total arrivals to more than 52,000 since the beginning of 2017.
IOM said its regional plan “seeks to strengthen the response to the needs and priorities expressed by concerned governments, and focuses on such activities as data collection and dissemination, capacity building and coordination, direct support and socio-economic integration.”
Diego Beltrand, IOM Regional Director for South America, urges host countries to consider adopting measures, such as regularizing the stay of Venezuelans, and called for the international community to contribute to the regional plan, which requires US$32.3 million to implement.
Last month, as deepening economic woes force thousands of Venezuelans to flee the crisis-gripped country, the United Nations issued guidance on treating the population as “refugees,” while the head of the UN World Food Program (WFP) warned that the outflow into neighboring countries constitutes a “humanitarian disaster.”
“The movements are taking place for a variety of reasons, including insecurity and violence, lack of food, medicine or access to essential social services as well as loss of income,” Aikaterini Kitidi, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters at a press briefing in Geneva.
“While not all Venezuelans leaving are prompted to do so for refugee-related reasons, it is becoming increasingly clear that, while all may not be refugees, a significant number are in need of international protection,” she added.
Since 2014, the UN said there has been a 2,000 per cent increase in the number of Venezuelan nationals seeking asylum worldwide, principally in the Americas during the last year.
While in 2017 over 94,000 Venezuelans have been able to access refugee procedures in other countries, many in need of protection opt for other legal stay arrangements, which may be faster to obtain and provide the right to work, access to health and education, the UN said.
Yet, it said hundreds of thousands remain without documentation or legal permission to stay in asylum countries – making them vulnerable to discrimination, trafficking, sexual abuse and xenophobia.
UNHCR’s guidelines encourage States to ensure Venezuelans have access to territory and refugee procedures.
“In addition,” Kitidi said “UNHCR welcomes and calls on governments to adopt pragmatic protection-oriented responses for the Venezuelan people, such as alternative legal stay arrangements, including visas or temporary residence permits, as well as other regularization programs, which guarantee access to the basic rights of health care, education, family unity, freedom of movement, shelter and the right to work.”
UNHCR applauds regional countries that have introduced such arrangements, and hopes that costs and requirements are eased, where necessary to ensure accessibility.
But UNHCR said while governments in the region have been generous in their response, host communities receiving Venezuelans are under increasing strain, “and need urgent and robust support, to promote peaceful coexistence and prevent manifestations of discrimination and xenophobia.”
“UNHCR is working with governments to address the protection and basic needs of the outflow,” Kitidi said. “Consequently, UNHCR has developed a regional response plan that covers eight countries and the Caribbean sub-region.”