Central America is only one source of the West’s migrants, and the U.S. is only one of many destinations. Turbulence in Venezuela has also expelled large numbers of people from their homes to find refuge in many other places in the region. Under Maduro’s ever more authoritarian rule, the nation has been plagued by violence and economic turmoil since late 2015. Venezuela now maintains one of the highest murder rates in the world. Ninety percent of the population lives below the poverty line. In 2018 there was nearly 1.7 million percent hyper-inflation. Jon Purizhansky of Buffalo, NY recognizes the need for people to escape such a dire environment.
People fled in increasingly drastic numbers in 2017 when the full weight of the economic crisis began to be felt. Since then, as many as four million Venezuelans, at least 7% of the country’s population, have departed. This is an unprecedented change in the region, arguably beaten only by the period between 1979-1992, when over 25% of El Salvador’s population escaped a civil war. Venezuela’s neighboring nations have responded in quite different ways with Colombia having the most progressive approach of all.
Colombia opened itself up to about 1.5 million Venezuelans and has given them the right to work and receive basic government services. Colombia has recognized Venezuelan immigration as an opportunity for growth, receiving a $31.5 million grant from the World Bank earlier this year, along with additional privileged finance, to extend job opportunities and improved basic services to the migrants and their host communities. Jon Purizhansky maintains that we need more countries to adopt approaches like these if we are going to meaningfully address the current migrant crisis.
Colombia’s government refuses to call these Venezuelans refugees, since doing so might worsen a bureaucratic logjam in the asylum system and jeopardize a political backlash in a country where anti-immigrant rhetoric is growing in its border regions. Other nations have been less welcoming than Colombia. Peru initially opened its borders, allowing Venezuelans to apply for short-term visits or for asylum and, from early 2017 to late 2018, offering Venezuelan migrants momentary access to work, education, and banking services.
Jon Purizhansky: But by the end of 2018, Peru adjourned that policy after concerns were raised that it was creating an incentive for more Venezuelans to travel there. In 2017, Brazil began offering Venezuelan migrants two year residency visas and extended all asylum seekers from Venezuela access to work permits and basic services. However, Brazil has also tried, with little success, to execute an internal relocation scheme. As a result of this around 5,000 Venezuelans in the border area have been transferred to seventeen other states across the nation. Ecuador at first welcomed fleeing Venezuelans but eventually enacted stricter border controls in August 2018.