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The Forced Migration Of The Venezuelans: A Humanitarian Disaster

The world can never attain peace without people having security in their daily lives. For most individuals today, more insecurity emerges from anxieties about everyday life than from the fear of war or natural disaster. Hyperinflation, under-stocked markets and pharmacies, and failing hospitals and schools can compel people to flee their home countries, completely unclear what their future holds. These migrants are greeted with a xenophobic language and blame for crime and stealing jobs. This situation has become all too ordinary to refugees and migrants in Latin America, where 3 million Venezuelans have gushed into neighbouring countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Ecuador, as Venezuela faces the brunt of economic and political insecurity.

Image courtesy of Wiki Commons © 2015

Venezuela, residence to the world’s largest oil reserves, is a case study in the uncertainties of petro statehood. Decades of faulty governance have driven what was once one of South America’s most prosperous countries to political and economic wreckage. Over the timeline of Hugo Chávez’s presidency, strategic petroleum reserves diminished and government debt doubled. As the global oil prices collapsed in mid- 2014, Venezuela’s economy went into a depression. The economic unrest paved way for Nicolás Maduro to synthesize power through political despotism, electoral manipulation, and censorship. In 2017, the Maduro government raised an indefinite ban on all objections, imprisoned political opponents, and adjourned the National Assembly. Maduro procured re-election in a race in May 2018 which the United States and other countries condemned as undemocratic and unfair. No autonomous government establishments remain today in Venezuela to act as an obstruction on executive power. The enormous exodus of Venezuelans fleeing subjugation and such national emergency represents the greatest refugee crisis of its kind in contemporary South American history. A considerable number of Venezuelans pass the standard for refugee status. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) circulated guidance in March, 2018 advocating that Venezuelans be accepted de facto refugees and prompting nation- states to offer them protection.

However, the forced migration of the Venezuelans is becoming a regional strain to resources of neighbouring South American countries and in response, the borders of these countries have been secured. Nation- states in the region are considering allowing Venezuelans to enter, but few are providing them asylum in large numbers. Instead, most hope that the Venezuelans will return to their land in due course when many of these refugees do not perceive a future in their country and are searching for ways to remain permanently in host countries. Countries including Trinidad and Tobago do not have laws for asylum and they manage undocumented refugees as criminals.

The breaking point of Venezuela’s refugee crisis is the Colombian border town of Cúcuta, the crucial crossing pathway from Venezuela into Colombia. The Simón Bolívar International Bridge on the Colombian/Venezuelan border connecting the two small towns of San Antonio del Táchira in Venezuela and La Parada in Colombia has become a bridge of desperation for the Venezuelan refugees. Before the border shutdown, Colombian immigration officials estimated that 35,000 Venezuelans have been crossing the Simón Bolívar Bridge into Cúcuta daily for trade, work, school, or medical aid. The instability of Venezuela has spilled across its borders, fuelling the amplification of organized crime, which has dominated the Colombian/Venezuelan border for decades. The blocked lorries filled with US aid trucks at the border with Colombia is another materialization of the criminal activities with armed groups gambling with power games at the cost of vulnerable local people. This may give rise to a cross- border conflict, instead of a civil war. The Venezuelan political forces might shatter into juntas loyal to Maduro, others backing Juan Guaidó, the head of the National Assembly, and yet others selecting their own local leaders whose illegal business interests do not halt at the border. While Colombia suffers the thrust of the mass movement of Venezuelan refugees, Brazil is also challenged by an unusual influx. More than 40,000 refugees have crossed into and endured in Roraima, Brazil’s isolated and poorest state.

Amidst this man-made humanitarian disaster, the United States could continue and upgrade its diplomatic and aid strategy to counter the Venezuelan refugee crisis. Considering two response phases is important: “Initial Relief” and “Fostering Stability,” depending on the precedence, priority, and appropriateness of the mission. The responsibilities of faith-based organizations have been foundational; international assistance should find techniques to mitigate the effects of the rapid spread of disease and malnutrition. No country can alone hold the massive, sudden numbers of refugees that Colombia has confronted in recent months. For the broader burden- sharing, bolstering local capacity in Cúcuta is the most immediate requirement.

The Venezuelan escape may well transcend the Syrian refugee crisis. The game between Maduro and Guaidó is quite open and between this political tussle for power, it is easy to lose sight of unspeakable human misery. Venezuela’s refugee disaster is a challenge which requires sustainability in human security and freedom from want where threats hinder the ability to achieve basic material needs and human dignity.


Ishka Yadav

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