From the Field

Venezuela crisis: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

Venezuela is in crisis. The economy has collapsed, and an uprising of political opposition to President Nicolás Maduro has put the country’s leadership in question. About 5.4 million refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants from Venezuela 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.  One out of every three Venezuelans is food-insecure and in need of urgent food supplies, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). Once-eradicated diseases like cholera and malaria have returned, and children are increasingly dying of causes related to hunger and malnutrition.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the country’s humanitarian and economic crisis. Borders with neighboring countries have shut down, schools closed, and hospitals have struggled with staff shortages and supplies. Venezuelan migrants who returned to the country after losing their jobs abroad in the wake of the pandemic have been unable to earn wages back home. Shortages of fuel, electricity, and clean water have sparked riots and left many migrants with no choice but to flee again.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have been granted residence permits that allow them to stay in other countries. An estimated 1.7 million refugees have settled in Colombia, the country hosting the second-largest number of people displaced across borders. Turkey hosts the highest number of refugees — 3.7 million, most of whom are Syrian refugees.

While the influx from Venezuela has caused tensions in host countries, it’s also brought out their hospitable spirit. Still, needs among families in transition are great.

Help children and families affected by the crisis in Venezuela.

FAQs and facts about the Venezuela migration crisis explained

Explore frequently asked questions and facts about the economic crisis in Venezuela leading to mass migration, why people are migrating, and how you can help children and families affected.

Fast facts: Venezuela crisis

  • Years of economic and political instability in Venezuela have caused the largest population outflow in Latin America in recent years, according to the United Nations migration organization.
  • 5.4 million Venezuelans have left the country seeking food, work, and a better life since 2014.
  • Child malnutrition is on the rise in Venezuela, where the WFP plans to feed 1.5 million children in schools. World Vision is the WFP’s largest implementing partner.
  • Because Venezuela’s health system has collapsed, diseases such as measles, diphtheria, and malaria, which 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 monthly inflation rate has remained above 2,000%, while the International Monetary Fund projects the annual inflation rate in 2021 to more than double.

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How many people are affected by this crisis?

About 5.4 million Venezuelans from every walk of life have left the country since 2014. They’ve left to find work, food, better healthcare, and stability.

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Why is Venezuela in crisis?

The reasons Venezuela is in crisis are years of hyperinflation, violence, and food and medicine shortages. 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 led to the collapse of the national economy, and the government has not been able to provide adequate social services.

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Where are Venezuelans going?

Most Venezuelans are fleeing to neighboring countries. Of the 5.4 million people who have left Venezuela, the majority have remained in Latin America and the Caribbean. The highest concentration of Venezuelan migrants is in Colombia, where more than 1.7 million of them have relocated.

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Children suffer from hunger and malnutrition in the Venezuela migration crisis. A mother and child from Venezuela receive nutritional aid from Wrld Vision in Cúcuta, Colombia, near a border crossing.
A mother and child from Venezuela receive nutritional aid from World Vision in Cúcuta, Colombia, near a border crossing. (©2019 World Vision/photo by Erica Bohorquez)

How is the Venezuela crisis affecting children?

Children are among the most vulnerable in this crisis. As food stocks dwindle, children are at greater risk of hunger and death. And they face a greater danger of exploitation and harm while in transit with their fleeing families. Many children who’ve 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 a greater risk of trafficking in fluid, mass-migration situations like the Venezuela crisis.

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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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 don’t 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.

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How is World Vision responding to the Venezuela crisis?

World Vision has maintained a multi-country response to the Venezuelan migrant crisis since January 2019. We’ve reached more than 782,000 people, including 258,00 children, through programs focused on child protection, education, and food security and livelihoods in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

Now that COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in Latin America, Venezuelan migrants’ needs are increasing. Many of them who have struggled for employment and live in poor conditions are now at high risk for contracting the disease and suffering its secondary economic and social effects. World Vision’s cash transfers and food aid have become a vital lifeline.

Learn more about the protection risks facing Venezuelan children during the COVID-19 pandemic in World Vision’s report, “Double-Edged Sword.”

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How can I help people affected by the Venezuela crisis?

You can help Venezuelans by remembering them in prayer and helping World Vision meet their needs.

  • Pray that Venezuelans will receive food, medicine, and other necessities. Pray for families and communities that are broken because they’ve had to flee from hardship. Ask God to protect people who’ve fled their homes, especially the most vulnerable — children, the elderly, and people who are disabled.
  • Give to World Vision’s relief fund to address the needs of Venezuelans.

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Venezuela crisis timeline

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’s 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% 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 increase alarmingly.

2017: Maduro’s government creates a new legislative body, which assumes the right to pass laws. Crackdowns in response to anti-government protests leave more than 100 dead.

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. 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. In November, the U.N. estimates that 3 million Venezuelans have migrated because of the economic crisis 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.

2020: As the coronavirus pandemic spreads in Latin America, border closings and the collapse of global oil prices have made life even harder for Venezuelans.

2021: By the end of 2020, Venezuela accounts for 5.4 million refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants, remaining one of the world’s largest displacement crises.

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

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