From the Field

Venezuela crisis: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

Once among Latin America’s most prosperous nations, Venezuela has taken a drastic turn within the last decade, facing significant challenges due to political unrest, economic decline, and acute shortages of vital resources such as food, medicine, and electricity. The resulting crisis has driven millions of people from Venezuela in search of food, better living conditions, and work opportunities beyond its borders. As of early August 2023, over 7.7 million Venezuelans were residing outside of the country, according to the Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V).

The ongoing influx of Venezuelans to neighboring countries has placed a strain on social services, particularly in areas near the borders of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

Venezuela crisis: Facts, FAQs, and how you can help

Fast facts: Venezuela crisis

  • Driven by ongoing turmoil, as of August 2023, over 7.7 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2014.
  • With fuel shortages and Venezuela’s struggling economy, nearly 4 million people still residing in the country will require emergency food assistance through November 2023, according to USAID.
  • The overwhelming majority of Venezuela’s migrants, more than 6.1 million people, are now being hosted in various countries across Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Colombia hosts the highest concentration of Venezuelan migrants — nearly 2.5 million.
  • In the first two months of 2023, the number of children crossing the dangerous Darién Gap between Colombia and Panama by foot was seven times higher than the number in the same period the previous year, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

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Why is Venezuela in crisis?

Years of hyperinflation, rampant corruption, economic mismanagement, and a lack of economic diversification have taken a heavy toll on Venezuela. The country has been impacted by social and political unrest, leading to protests and violence that contribute to a pervasive sense of national insecurity. Once among the wealthiest nations in Latin America, Venezuela relied heavily on its vast oil reserves for revenue. However, a significant decline in oil prices and production, coupled with inadequate government investments, resulted in the collapse of the national economy. The government’s ineffective response to these challenges and failure to provide essential social services have exacerbated the crisis, leaving Venezuelans struggling with dire shortages of food, medicine, and other necessities.

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How many people from Venezuela are currently displaced?

As of August 2023, more than 7.7 million people have left Venezuela, making it one of the largest external displacement crises in the world. Much like the Syrian refugee crisis, which remains the largest, the Venezuelan crisis has affected numerous lives.

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Where are Venezuelans going?

Most Venezuelans have sought refuge in neighboring countries. Of the millions of people who have left Venezuela, the majority (approximately 6.1 million) have chosen to remain in Latin America and the Caribbean. Notably, Colombia has become the primary destination, hosting over 2.5 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela.

A dangerous exodus

As the crisis unfolds, people are taking dangerous journeys to reach their intended destinations. These treks are frequently taken on foot, and some even attempt risky sea voyages to nearby Caribbean islands.

The lack of proper documentation makes refugees and migrants vulnerable to exploitation and victimization at the hands of smugglers and traffickers who take advantage of their desperate situation.

A woman wearing a baseball cap sits at a table in the shade, surrounded by her three children. They are all smiling.
(©2023 World Vision/photo by Edward Felipe Martin Neira)

Jasmina and her family, including her children pictured above, embarked on a years-long journey from Venezuela in search of better living conditions. They traveled hundreds of miles through the roads of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, enduring nights of sleeping on the streets with no permanent home. Their struggles included crossing the Darién Gap, a dangerous jungle route.

“You just feel like you’re going to die; you just feel like you’re going to stay there. You can only pray and ask God to give you strength from where there is none because your legs are getting weaker, you feel like you can’t breathe, that you are going to faint, that you are going to stay there and nobody, absolutely nobody, is going to be able to help you, because you are in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a jungle,” remembers Jasmina. Despite the immense difficulties, they pressed on.

After four years of migrating from country to country, Jasmina made the difficult choice to return to Venezuela. She expressed heartfelt gratitude for the support from World Vision, which provided her family with the transportation they needed to return to their community. The help from World Vision not only eased their journey home but also left a lasting impact on Jasmina, who was assured that her family was not alone during the most challenging times of their migration.

“… Without that help, the return would have been very difficult, we were already tired and without strength. With World Vision, the burden was significantly reduced,” she says.

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What’s the difference between a migrant, a refugee, and an asylum-seeker?

The Venezuela crisis has sparked a significant movement of people, the majority of whom are classified as migrants. A migrant is someone who moves from their usual place of residence, whether internally or internationally, regardless of their legal status or reasons for moving.

By contrast, a refugee is a person who flees their home country due to persecution, conflict, violence, or other circumstances that place them in need of international protection. Nearly 212,000 people who have left Venezuela are considered refugees, as they fled the country to escape violence.

Additionally, according to R4V, as of the end of 2022, over 1 million Venezuelans are asylum-seekers who have pending legal asylum applications in their new host countries, including Brazil, Peru, and the United States. An asylum-seeker is someone who applies for refugee status in another country and is awaiting a decision on their claim for protection.

Explore the world of refugees: Discover the facts and differences between asylum-seekers, migrants, and refugees.

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How is the Venezuela crisis affecting children?

Children are among the most vulnerable in this crisis. As food stocks dwindle, they face a greater risk of hunger and starvation. According to World Vision staff leading the crisis response, Venezuelan migration is currently the biggest humanitarian crisis in Latin America.

Children and adolescents on the move, especially girls and those who are separated from their families or unaccompanied, are exposed to significant protection risks, including trafficking, sexual exploitation, and abuse. Consequently, their mental health and psychosocial well-being are under threat, with reported cases of sexual violence tripling and the risk of suicide increasing among this vulnerable population in the last three years, according to UNICEF.

Another alarming trend has emerged: More children than ever are embarking on hazardous routes to reach their intended destinations. During January and February 2023, nearly 9,700 children — seven times as many as the previous year — took the challenging journey through the Darién Gap between Colombia and Panama, en route north, as reported by UNICEF. This means that 1 in 5 migrants navigating the jungle are children.

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How is World Vision responding to the Venezuela crisis?

Since 2019, World Vision has actively responded to the Venezuela crisis through our program “Hope Without Borders.” Between 2019 and March 2023, we reached more than 1.8 million through programs focused on child protection, education, food security, access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), and livelihoods in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

We’re also facilitating economic integration through employment support and training and mental health services for people impacted by the crisis. Collaboration with faith-based organizations is vital and enables us to offer safe spaces, skills training, and language classes. World Vision’s cash transfers and food aid have become an essential lifeline for thousands of people.

 

Several dozen people, including children, carry backpacks and form a line in Panama. A man in an orange vest directs them.
People line up in Puerto Limón, Panama, where World Vision is working with partner agencies to support families who have crossed the Darién Gap, a dangerous 66-mile jungle route. (©2023 World Vision/photo by Gabriela Becerra)

In Panama, World Vision, in partnership with Start Network, has launched “Migration Response Panama” to help migrants, especially those with children, traversing the Darién Gap. From January to May 2023, over 166,000 people, including 25,431 children, made this journey. The operation provides vital aid, including food, hygiene kits, and baby supplies, at the borders, while helping with the integration of vulnerable migrants.

Read what young Venezuelan migrants say about their daily lives and the COVID-19 pandemic in World Vision’s report Venezuelan children between a rock and a hard place.

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How can I help people affected by the Venezuela crisis?

You can support Venezuelans by remembering them in prayer and helping meet their needs.

  • Pray: Join us in praying for all those affected by the crisis in Venezuela.

Dear God, we pray for protection and provision for children, families, and communities that are affected by the crisis. As they continue to endure hardship, comfort them, dear God, and bring healing to their hearts. Lord, we lift up the most vulnerable among them and ask You to shield them from harm and surround them with Your love and protection.

  • Give to World Vision’s Disaster Relief Fund to address the needs of Venezuelans.

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Venezuela crisis timeline

1920s to 1970s: The world’s largest reserves were discovered in Venezuela, leading to Venezuela’s economic development.

1980s to 1990s: Falling global oil prices caused economic contraction and massive debt.

1998: Elected president Hugo Chavez promised to use the country’s oil wealth to alleviate poverty.

2000s: Expansion of social services contrasted with challenges such as rampant corruption, declining oil production, and increasing government debt in Venezuela.

2010 to 2012: Chavez’s attempts at economic reform — currency devaluation and price controls — were ineffective.

2013: Chavez died of cancer at age 58 and was succeeded by Vice President Nicolás Maduro.

2014: Low oil prices led to reduced public spending and a crackdown on anti-government protests.

2015: Opposition party gained control of the National Assembly, ending Socialist Party rule.

2016: Economic crisis, healthcare system deterioration, and alarming social issues spiked, including hunger and malnutrition, maternal and child mortality, infectious diseases, and unemployment.

2017: A new legislative body was created, which coincided with a crackdown on protests and the rise of mass migration.

2018: Maduro controversially won re-election, and hyper-inflation was tackled through currency reform.

2019: Maduro began his second 6-year term amid a political crisis — in which time Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader and head of the National Assembly, declared himself interim president.

2020: Venezuela faced compounded difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic and collapsing oil prices.

2023: Venezuela continues to face one of the largest external displacement crises, with over 7.7 million Venezuelans now residing abroad.

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Sevil Omer of World Vision’s U.S. staff contributed to this article.

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