“Se alquila habitación. Favor no presentarse venezolanos.”
This is a sample of the classified ads that are starting to show up where Venezuelans are moving en masse. We are not talking about marginal numbers, especially in South American countries: According to the International Migration Organization (IOM), in 2015, the number of Venezuelans abroad was 697,562, the majority residing in the United States, Spain, Italy and Portugal. These are the countries from which we received a lot of immigrants during our golden age, so now we see how the pendulum swings both ways.
However, flows have recently diversified. The IOM also reports that, in 2017, the number of Venezuelans abroad was 1,622,109, representing a growth of 133%, and most of it has been in the region, particularly in Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay. In 2015, only 88,975 Venezuelans resided in these countries, while for 2017, the figure was 885,891. A 895% increase in just three years.
In 2017, the number of Venezuelans abroad was 1,622,109, representing a growth of 133%, and most of it has been in the region.
Migration can be a positive phenomenon, but not everything is color de rosa when it’s sudden and forced —as is the case of Venezuelan migrants and refugees— and one of the undesired effects is xenophobia.
Xenophobia is the product of stereotypes and prejudices that lead nationals of a destination country to reject, assault and discriminate against immigrants, their culture and their customs, just because they’re different. It’s often related to the fear and resentment emerging when nationals of a destination see that foreigners come to benefit from resources and opportunities already scarce for their fellow countrymen and women. We shouldn’t excuse that behavior, but it’s important to remember where it comes from.
Unfortunately, there have been public and aggressive manifestations of xenophobia against Venezuelans. Starting this year, as Brazil started to see an increase in the number of Venezuelans coming to Roraima, we saw violent attacks and arson crimes against the houses of Venezuelan migrants and against Venezuelans themselves. This is not a new thing; in Panama, opponents of Venezuelan migration organized a march of protest in 2016.
Unfortunately, there have been public and aggressive manifestations of xenophobia against Venezuelans.
There is also a display of passive-aggressive manifestations, comments, looks and discriminatory actions. This is the case of people who put their properties up for rent, asking Venezuelans not to show up. Others look for employees, but reject Venezuelans with work permits, and there are reported incidents at the hands of those who must welcome people in need: immigration officers.
So far, it’s all (fortunately) in the field of anecdotes and isolated events, but whether systematic or not, we better keep an eye on this. This is something worth monitoring.
The good news is that these behaviors respond to prejudices, and prejudices can be “unlearned” with education and awareness.
What can we do? To Venezuelans abroad: Let’s be an example of civility, let’s be grateful to the country that welcomes us by respecting its laws, contributing positively to the development of communities where we’re taking root. To the nationals of receiving countries: Nurture the feeling of solidarity amongst nations and try to “unlearn” values that lead us to hate what’s different —after all, diversity is part of nature. Let’s encourage the people and governments of the region who have, so kindly, opened their doors in solidarity to Venezuelan migrants and refugees, to continue to do so.
We’re counting on you.
DISCLAIMER: The views are personal and do not represent the position of the OAS.