The number of people fleeing Venezuela’s devastating economic crisis could hit 8m by the end of next year, surpassing the number who have left Syria and making it the biggest recent exodus anywhere on the planet, the Organisation of American States has warned in a report.
The group said 4m Venezuelans have already left their country since 2015, and the figure is set to rise to 5.3m-5.7m by the end of 2019. If nothing is done to tackle the crisis, it will hit 7.5m-8.2m by the end of 2020, the OAS report said.
That compares to around 6.3m who have fled Syria during its eight-year conflict, 2.6m who have left Afghanistan and 2.4m escaping South Sudan, said Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution in Washington, one of the authors of the report.
About 5,000 Venezuelans are leaving every day — dwarfing the numbers of Central American and Mexican migrants crossing the southern border of the US. That works out at about 200 every hour.
“In the hour that we spend discussing this report today, another 200 Venezuelans will have left their country,” Mr Bahar told the OAS during its annual general assembly in the Colombian city of Medellín.
David Smolansky, a former Venezuelan mayor who fled the country in 2017 and co-authored the report, told the meeting that the international community was not doing enough to help. A UN appeal to raise $730m to help Venezuela’s neighbours deal with the influx had so far brought in only 21 per cent of that amount.
Mr Bahar said that over the past eight years, each Syrian refugee had received an average of $5,000 in aid from the international community. Venezuela’s migrants had received an average of just $100 each.
The OAS report’s authors said Venezuelan migrants should be given refugee status. That would help them receive benefits in host countries and seek asylum. Of the 460,000 Venezuelans who have applied for political asylum in recent years, only 21,000 have been successful, they said.
They also suggested Latin American nations provide migrants with a “transit card” that would allow them to move between countries more easily. Many leave Venezuela without passports because they cannot afford them, and are struggling to cross borders.
The authors blamed the crisis squarely on the failed policies of the government of Nicolás Maduro, who had presided over the biggest economic collapse in Latin American history during his six years in office.
But some countries at the OAS have also questioned the role of US sanctions, saying they have strangled the Venezuelan economy and exacerbated the exodus.
Defending US policy, Kimberly Breier, assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, said the demise of the Venezuelan economy and the sharp drop in oil production predated the first major US sanctions imposed in mid-2017.
“We’ve been very careful in our sanctions regime, to target them towards elements that support the regime and not towards the Venezuelan people,” she said.