The Slow and Silent Death of Venezuelan Female Migrants and Refugees

Venezuelan women are dying while migrating. It’s happening silently, thoroughly, and now we finally have data on it.

Yoenny Cazorla, an undocumented Venezuelan migrant, looks at a bus driving past while she rests close to Los Patios, Colombia August 25, 2018. Cazorla, from the violent Venezuelan city of Maracay, was walking with relatives to the Colombian city of Medellin. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins SEARCH "MIGRANT TACHIRA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Photo: Reuters retrieved

The recent wave of xenophobia against Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Peru, and the more subtle equivalents in other countries of the region, got me scared. You see, most of the xenophobic attacks documented via social media were against women.

I kept thinking whether all this was “violence against women” in its purest form or whether it was mere xenophobia. Or whether it was a bit of both, given that being a migrant or refugee makes women even more vulnerable once they switch nations. Intersectionality at its best. Or at its worst.

Well, back on August 30th we published a post documenting how in 2019, “despite the mass migration and even the drop in certain violent crimes, the number of femicides in Venezuela, instead of dropping, has increased.” The data reported was frightening. According to official data, there were 253 cases of femicides in 2015. However, Venezuelan NGO Avesa (Venezuelan Association for Alternative Sex-Ed) reported that just between January and July 2019, 262 women have been murdered. That’s nine more than the official figures for the entire year of 2015.

What’s happening to migrating women? Are they finding the same fate of our 262 who have died this year?

What’s happening to migrating women? Are they finding the same fate of our 262 who have died this year? The range of threats they face is great, but recent data is pointing to a troubling situation: they’re being murdered just for being women.

A “femicide” is a crime involving the violent and deliberate killing of a woman, just for being a woman. We didn’t have data for migrant and refugee Venezuelan women, but two researchers just created an online “Map of Venezuelan migrant and refugee women who have died abroad,” showing the data of dozens of female deaths abroad by murder, accident or suicide.

The map doesn’t show just numbers; behind each figure, there’s a life, a family, a story. The project shows who were these women: their full names, when they died, their picture and the press article reporting their passing. Each city and country where a death occurred contains an icon: 

  • A cross: death by murder/femicide;
  • A car: death in a car accident; 
  • A bus: death in a bus accident; 
  • A motorcycle: death in a motorcycle accident;
  • A person swimming: death by shipwreck; 
  • A mountain: death by landslide; 
  • A sanitary cross: death in a hospital/health facility or by illness; 
  • A white circle: death by suicide;
  • A question mark: when causes aren’t fully clear.

With 80 Venezuelan women dead, Colombia seems to be the deadliest country for them. It’s also where 1.4 million of the 4.3 Venezuelan migrants and refugees have gone; the next three hazardous locations include Peru, Mexico and Ecuador. This is also happening in the United States and Canada.

The map doesn’t show just numbers; behind each figure, there’s a life, a family, a story.

Documented deaths occurred between 2017 and mid-2019, although some were recorded in 2012, 2015 and 2016, and these are just those covered by the media. There must be many, many more that we don’t know about.

Xenophobia is the act of rejecting or discriminating against that which is foreign or different. Venezuelan migrants and refugees are facing xenophobia indeed, but can you imagine how women have to fear not just xenophobic attacks but also death just for being women?

** The views are personal. They do not represent those of the Organization of American States.