Venezuela is in crisis. The economy has collapsed, and an uprising of political opposition to President Nicolas Maduro has put the country’s leadership in question. More than 3 million Venezuelans — 5,500 per day in 2018 — have left the country seeking food, work, and a better life.
Latin America’s largest migration in recent years is driven by hyperinflation, violence, and food and medicine shortages stemming from recent years of political turmoil. Once-eradicated diseases like cholera and malaria have returned, and children increasingly are dying of causes related to hunger and malnutrition.
An estimated more than 1.5 million people have settled in Colombia; nearly 700,000 in Peru; nearly 280,000 in Ecuador; and Brazil, Chile, and Argentina are each hosting 100,000 Venezuelans or more. About 290,000 Venezuelans have settled in the United States and more than 200,000 in Spain, according to the U.N. International Organization on Migration.
While the influx from Venezuela has caused tensions in host countries, it also has brought out their hospitable spirit. Still, needs among families in transition are great. And forecasts for 2019 show the number of displaced people may increase to more than 5 million. World Vision staff in neighboring countries are helping.
History of the Venezuela crisis
1920s to 1970s – Oil is discovered in Venezuela, which is found to have the world’s largest reserves. The nation’s economic development is based on rising prices and profits in oil exports.
1980s to 1990s – Global oil prices fall; Venezuela’s economy contracts. The country faces massive debt.
1998 – Hugo Chavez, former leader of a 1992 coup attempt, is elected president. He promises to use the country’s oil wealth to improve the lives of the poor.
2000s – Chavez expands social services, but corruption is rampant, and a steady decline in oil production reduces oil reserves and increases government debt.
2010 to 2012 – Chavez’ attempts at economic reform – currency devaluation and price controls – are ineffective.
2013 – After 14 years of rule, Chavez dies of cancer at age 58. Chosen successor Vice President Nicolás Maduro assumes the presidency and narrowly wins an election. With inflation at more than 50 percent a year, the National Assembly gives Maduro emergency powers for a year, beginning in November.
2014 – Public spending is curtailed because of low oil prices. Anti-government protests are broken up with force.
2015 – The opposition Democratic Unity Party wins control of the National Assembly, ending 16 years of Socialist Party rule.
2016 – The economy is in crisis, and the healthcare system lacks funding. Hunger and malnutrition, maternal and child mortality, infectious diseases, and unemployment are increase alarmingly.
2017 – Maduro’s government creates a new legislative body, which usurps constitutional legislative function. Crackdowns in response to anti-government protests leave more than 100 dead.
May 2018 – Maduro wins the presidency again in a low-turnout election that was seen by many countries as fraudulent because of low participation by opposition parties.
August 2018 — To tackle hyperinflation, the government slashes five zeroes from the face value of its old currency and ties the new “sovereign bolivar” to a cryptocurrency that can’t be traded.
November 2018 — The U.N. estimates 3 million Venezuelans have migrated because of the poor economy and shortages in food and medical care.
2019 – Maduro is sworn in for his second six-year term. As opposition leader and head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, declares himself to be interim president according to the constitution. He is recognized as such by the U.S., Canada, and Venezuela’s Latin American neighbors.
FAQs: What you need to know about the Venezuela migration crisis
Explore frequently asked questions about what’s happening in Venezuela, why people are fleeing, and how you can help those affected.
- Fast facts: Venezuela crisis
- Who and how many people are affected by this crisis?
- Why are people leaving the country?
- Where are Venezuelans going?
- How is the Venezuela crisis affecting children?
- What’s the difference between a migrant, a refugee, and an asylum seeker?
- How is World Vision responding?
Fast facts: Venezuela crisis
- Years of economic and political instability in Venezuela have caused the largest population outflow in Latin America in recent years, the United Nations migration organization says.
- More than 3 million Venezuelans have left the country seeking food, work, and a better life since 2014.
- Child malnutrition has reached crisis levels in Venezuela, the U.N. children’s agency recently reported.
- Because Venezuela’s health system has collapsed, diseases such as measles, diphtheria, and malaria, that were once eradicated, are now spreading, and even spilling over national boundaries as Venezuelans migrate.
- Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, surpassing even those of Saudi Arabia.
- The International Monetary Fund predicts Venezuela’s inflation rate will reach 10 million percent in 2019.
Who and how many people are affected by this crisis?
Venezuelans from every walk of life are affected by the crisis. More than 3 million have left the country to find work, food, better healthcare, and stability. Estimates suggest between 4 and 8 million Venezuelans have left their homes since 2014.
Why are people leaving the country?
Most Venezuelans are leaving home because the effects of years of hyperinflation, violence, and food and medicine shortages have become unbearable. The country was once considered the richest in Latin America, thanks to having the largest oil reserves in the world. But more than a decade of declining oil revenue and poor governance for over a decade mean the national economy collapsed, and the government has not been able to provide adequate social services.
Where are Venezuelans going?
Most people are going to neighboring countries, including an estimated more than 1.5 million to Colombia, 698,000 to Peru, 103,000 to Brazil, and 278,000 to Ecuador. As many as 290,000 Venezuelans have settled in the U.S. and more than 200,000 in Spain.
How is the Venezuela crisis affecting children?
Children are among the most vulnerable in this crisis. As food stocks dwindle, they are at greater risk of hunger and death. And they face greater danger of exploitation and harm while in transit with their fleeing families. An estimated 460,000 children who have left Venezuela with their families need immediate humanitarian aid according to World Vision staff leading our response to the crisis. Girls often face gender-based violence and greater risk of trafficking in fluid, mass-migration situations like the Venezuela crisis.
What’s the difference between a migrant, a refugee, and an asylum seeker?
A migrant is different than a refugee. But either can seek asylum outside their country. The United Nations Refugee Agency explains: “Refugees are forced to flee to save their lives or preserve their freedom. ‘Migrant’ describes any person who moves, usually across an international border, to join family members already abroad, to search for a livelihood, to escape a natural disaster, or for a range of other reasons. Refugees are protected by international law. But migrants are subject to the unique laws and processes of the country they move to.
Asylum-seekers can be refugees or migrants. But while asylum-seekers officially apply for long-term legal protections and status in the country they flee to, refugees enjoy more short-term protections and status. Unregistered migrants do not necessarily receive the same protections or legal benefits in their host country.
The Venezuela crisis consists mostly of migrants and some refugees fleeing threats of violence, but hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have received legal asylum in their new host countries.
How is World Vision responding to the Venezuela crisis?
World Vision staff in countries throughout the Andean region began working in 2018 to address the needs of Venezuelan refugees.
- In Colombia, we are helping about 40,000 people with health, food, economic empowerment, and educational programming.
- In Ecuador, we provide hygiene kits and workshops in child protection and economic empowerment.
- Our staff in Peru is working with about 56,000 Venezuelans to provide health, hygiene, food services, and prepaid cash cards to help them cover basic needs upon arrival in Peru.
- In Brazil, our staff is working to set up Child-Friendly Spaces for migrant children and help facilitate Venezuelans who are registering for documentation. Child-Friendly Spaces give children in difficult living conditions a place to play, learn, and receive psychosocial care.