GENEVA – U.N. agencies are calling for greater protection for Venezuelan refugees and migrants fleeing economic hardship and persecution. Venezuelans are often in danger upon arrival in other nations.
Many of the 4.6 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants across Latin America and the Caribbean face multiple risks due to COVID-19, crime and human trafficking, impoverishment and other threats.
The U.N. refugee agency says Venezuelans most at risk are those fleeing increasingly desperate conditions in their country. Field assessments indicate approximately 500 to 700 people leave Venezuela every day.
Babar Baloch, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says borders across the region remain closed, forcing refugees to use routes where they are threatened by armed groups, smugglers and traffickers.
“This exposes them to heightened risk of violence, exploitation, and trafficking having been faced with theft, extortion, violence and abuse in transit and border zones, during their journey to safety,” he said. “As conditions inside Venezuela continue to deteriorate, many arrive in Colombia weak and in a state of poor nutrition, having faced impoverishment and hardship for many months.”
The International Organization for Migration says that COVID-19 has hit Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the region particularly hard. IOM spokeswoman, Angela Wells says the economic and social impact of the pandemic has been devastating for both the Venezuelans and the 17 countries where they are now.
“The pressures due to the COVID-19 mobility restrictions and consequent socio-economic decline have been compounded by the difficulties they face in regularizing their situations in host countries and fewer opportunities to pursue regular migration pathways,” she said. “Decreased economic opportunities have put refugees and migrants at greater risk of eviction and hunger while xenophobia and discrimination toward this population have been on the rise.”
Under the so-called Quito process, which works to help and protect Venezuelan refugees and migrants, Latin American and Caribbean countries coordinate efforts to allow them to reach countries of asylum more safely.