When one thinks of a refugee crisis, it is often war stricken countries that have forced citizens to migrate, or perhaps a natural disaster that wrecked a small nation. Perhaps even, an ethnic group seeking safety from persecution. Oddly enough, one of the largest refugee crises in the world has emerged from none of these, in Venezuela.
According to the UNHCR, Venezuela’s refugee crisis is the largest in Latin America with over 5 million Venezuelans displaced. In recent years, Venezuelans have left their home for new destinations, often crossing borders by land, through buses or even with their own legs. Following the country’s economic collapse, many Venezuelans have fled in search of security and stability. Facing unemployment and rising prices in goods, combined with negligent governance, Venezuelans have had to find ways to survive, by crossing the border into new lands.
The country’s neighbor, Colombia, has been the country most impacted by the crisis. Almost 2 million Venezuelans reside in Colombia, a country of 50 million. For years now, Colombia has had to grapple with this large influx of immigrants. While at the surface it may not seem like a big deal, this large number of immigrants can cause a logistical nightmare. Not just that, but this diaspora has and will continue to drastically affect the political environment of the country. As with many refugee crises, immigrants tend to polarize countries, sparking extremism and anti-immigration rhetoric. Colombia is no exception to this. A gallup poll shows that 69% of Colombians have unfavorable views towards Venezuelans.
In an unprecedented move, Colombia has announced that Venezuelan immigrants in the country will have protected status for 10 years. This move will provide Venezuelans in the country legal residence permits and access to healthcare and legal employment. Migrants who have entered the country before January 31 are eligible and those who enter in the next two years will be able to apply for TPS status.
Colombia is not the only country impacted by this refugee crisis, the entire continent is, particularly countries like Brazil, Peru and Chile. It is important for these countries to have the proper resources and tools to deal with these refugees. According to a Brookings Institution Report, of the three largest exoduses in the world, Venezuela’s migration crisis is the one with least funding.
What Venezuelans and its host communities need most right now is funding. Otherwise, the threat is the destabilization of the entire continent. This is Latin America’s defining conflict at the moment and it has already left Venezuela’s borders. What happens inside the country will undoubtedly impact the entire continent.
It’s incredibly necessary for governments in Latin America to properly deal with this refugee crisis, which is already rivaling the Syrian refugee crisis. Beyond the fact that this crisis affects each country, there’s also an additional, and perhaps more important reason to follow Colombia’s footsteps: decency.
Venezuelan immigrants leave their country behind and walk towards uncertainty. The situation at home is so desperate, migrants walk for days to different nations, hoping to make a decent living for themselves. They deserve whatever help they can get, and that responsibility mostly lies on governments. This policy allows Venezuelan immigrants to create a life for themselves without any fears or limitations.
Although this is the right approach to help Venezuelans, it’s a risky move for Colombian president Ivan Duque. This policy will undoubtedly spark criticism, especially among those who have negative perceptions of Venezuelans. However, it ensures that Venezuelans will be able to incorporate into Colombian society more smoothly.
Duque has, rightly so, been praised for this humanitarian example. However, Latin America is far from tackling this refugee crisis. Anti-immigrant rhetoric has sparked in several countries such as Peru and Brazil, who have both received a high number of Venezuelan immigrants. As this rhetoric continues to be part of the political discourse, polarization among the people will increase in these countries. This will undoubtedly impact the lives of Venezuelans living in those countries.
Venezuelans have already had to deal with trauma in their own homes. They leave their past behind in search of new lives in other countries only to be exposed to rising xenophobia and violence. People have categorized Venezuelans as criminals or have stated they will steal jobs. Venezuelans find a hostile environment where they are unwanted and even feared. Colombia’s “Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelan Migrants” says otherwise. It tells Venezuelans they are welcome and that they are safe. It gives them hope in a hopeless situation.
If Latin America wants to avoid destabilisation, they must address this refugee crisis and the best way to do so is with humanity. Colombia is leading the example. The question is whether other countries in the continent will be as brave to lend a helping hand to Venezuelans.