Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

2020 Venezuelan Migration Year in Review

Another year of intense migration movements for Venezuelans closes with 5,448,441 displaced compatriots. Their situation and the countries receiving them worsened with the pandemic

According to data by the UN and IOM Coordination Platform for Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees, December 2020 closes with 5,448,441 displaced Venezuelans throughout the world, with Colombia, Peru and Chile as the top three countries with the highest numbers. The pace of displacement was consistent until March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We saw the closing of borders, flights stopped and a slowdown of migration movements throughout the world. This was also the case for Venezuelan migration; as the numbers of people with the virus, and dying from complications, went up, our migrants started returning to Venezuela. It was a very small percentage but it made the news when regime authorities demonized them and their return. We close 2020 with an uptick in migration movements, and awful tragedies that continue to illustrate the profound effect the humanitarian crisis keeps having on the Venezuelan people. 

What happened in 2020 with Venezuelan migration? How did COVID-19 affect these populations? How did the international community react? In the hopes of documenting our history of migration, we bring you a summary of some of the key issues regarding Venezuelan migration in 2020.

January:

  • The year starts with 4,768,498 displaced Venezuelans throughout the world. The Venezuelan displacement crisis is already second to Syria, which is the largest refugee crisis in the world.
  • Prepara Familia, an NGO conducting humanitarian work in Venezuela, is harassed. Police officers enter the organization’s headquarters without a court order and attempt to confiscate medical supplies that were to be delivered to children at the JM de los Rios Hospital. This event shows the lack of political will in solving one of the main drivers of migration: the humanitarian emergency.

February:

  • From February 5th through the 8th, and with support from the Colombia government, the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights visits the Colombian-Venezuelan border, in a historic in loco visit, to monitor the human rights situation in Venezuela. Instead of meeting with organizations and individuals in the country, organizations and private Venezuelan citizens meet confidentially in Cúcuta, following the Venezuelan government rejection of the visit. The report confirms the persistence of human rights violations, and the deterioration of political, economic, and humanitarian conditions in Venezuela.
  • Using the Declaration of Cartagena for the recognition of refugees, the National Committee for Refugees (CONARE) of Brazil grants refugee status to 17,000 Venezuelans. As a result of this decision, Brazil becomes the country with the highest number of recognized refugees with this nationality in Latin America, totaling 37,000 people. 

March:

  • As of March 2020, 4.9 million Venezuelans have left the country. 1.8 million have settled in Colombia, 861,000 in Peru, and around 366,000 in Ecuador. 
  • Due to the COVID-19 virus spread, the World Health Organization (WHO) declares it a pandemic on March 11, 2020. The pandemic adds to economic challenges the region was already facing, with particular impacts on migrant populations. Countries now have to face the challenge of managing a public-health crisis while also addressing the needs of displaced Venezuelans and the communities in which they live.
  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) rejects Venezuela’s request for a $5-billion loan from the organism’s Emergency Fund of the Rapid Financing Instrument (IFR). Maduro sends a formal letter requesting the loan to strengthen the country’s detection and response system. The IMF alludes to a lack of clarity among its member states on who was the leader of the country, as the reason to deny it.

This event shows the lack of political will in solving one of the main drivers of migration: the humanitarian emergency.

April:

  • A month into the pandemic, Venezuelan migrants start to migrate back to Venezuela as lockdown measures prevent them from earning a living abroad. Evictions are the order of the day, as well as food insecurity.

May:

  • In coordination with IOM, UNHCR and the European Union, Spain promotes the organization of an International Donors Conference in solidarity with Venezuelan refugees and migrants, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EU Commission  Joseph Borrell announces that they have managed to raise €2.544 million in pledges from various international donors.
  • Lisandro Cabello, the second in command at Zulia’s illegitimate government, calls migrants returning to the country “biological weapons.” This aligns with Maduro’s rhetoric of demonizing Venezuelan migrants, identifying them as part of a strategy by the Colombian government to “infect” Venezuela with more coronavirus cases.

June:

  • UNHCR estimates the number of returned Venezuelans since the start of the pandemic to be around 50,000 people. We covered it here; they’re received by the Venezuelan regime with acts of xenophobia and discrimination. 
  • According to the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), applications for asylum in the European Union rose for the first time since the 2015 refugee crisis, mainly due to a sharp rise in applicants from Venezuela (a 103% increase since 2018), and Colombians.
  • UNHCR publishes its 2019 Global Trends in Forced Displacement Report. For the first time, Venezuelan nationals are referred to in a new category: “Venezuelans displaced abroad.”

July:

  • On July 15, the 2020 Venezuela Humanitarian Needs Overview and Humanitarian Response Plan (HNO/HRP) gets published. It identifies key food security, health, nutrition, and protection needs among vulnerable populations in the country. The Plan would provide aid to around 4.5 million people of the 7 million in need of humanitarian support. Approximately $762.5 million is needed to support humanitarian assistance programs through December 2020.
  • The Government of the United States announces that international students whose universities only offer online classes in the fall semester won’t be allowed to remain in the country. Venezuelan students who are trying to make it in the U.S. fear their (involuntary) return. 
  • The ENCOVI 2020 report (or National Poll on Life Conditions of the Venezuelan Population) is published. It indicates that 96% of Venezuelan households are below the poverty line, and confirms that at least 30% of Venezuelan families depend on remittances from their family members abroad to be able to provide for basic needs.
  • The Organization of American States (OAS) and the grouping of Venezuelan civil society organizations called “Coalición por Venezuela” publish the document “Recommendations to Improve the Situation of Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees in the Context of COVID-19,” which compiles a series of recommendations to guarantee the protection of  Venezuelan migrants and refugees in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They cite public information sources that indicate these people were lost at sea after being returned from the neighboring island.

August:

  • Stefani Flores, a young Venezuelan migrant woman, is raped, stabbed and left for dead in Trinidad and Tobago. She was on her way to sell empanadas for a living, and was abducted by men in a taxi cab. Mrs. Flores only managed to save her life by playing dead and was found by other Trinitarians by the side of the road, who took her to the nearest hospital. She survives the attack. 
  • As a result of the shortage of healthcare workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Peru issues a decree exempting qualified foreign doctors and nurses residing in Peru from requirements to validate medical degrees received outside of the country.

September:

  • During a trip to Brazil, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces approximately $348 million in additional humanitarian assistance in response to the Venezuela regional crisis. No announcements are made on the issue of a TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for Venezuelans in the United States. 
  • On September 16, the United Nations Human Rights Council shares the contents of the report by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The report concludes that there’s enough evidence to confirm that government agents, irregulars colectivos, the Bolivarian militia and other groups connected to the regime committed “egregious violations” of human rights, including systematic and widespread conduct amounting to crimes against humanity. 

October:

  • As the context of COVID-19 normalizes, and countries of the region start opening their economies, new waves of migrants start their journey abroad from remote states in Venezuela. This causes the renewed use of unsafe and illegal passages called trochas, concentration of moving populations in border zones, and work overload for the network of humanitarian organizations that provide assistance to walkers on their route. 

November:

  • The IACHR publicly shares its concerns about the alleged deportation from Trinidad and Tobago on November 22 of a group of Venezuelan migrants, including 16 children and teenagers, some of them unaccompanied. They cite public information sources that indicate these people were lost at sea after being returned from the neighboring island. In the same statement, the IACHR requests governments of the Region, including Trinidad and Tobago’s, to grant international protection on a humanitarian basis to these persons, as well as to guarantee their right to non-refoulement
  • The systematic campaign against human rights and humanitarian organizations continues. On November 23, Alimenta la Solidaridad, an NGO that runs 239 soup kitchens that provide food to 25,000 children and delivers 1,500 free meals a day to health workers, is attacked. Maduro’s Attorney General issues an arrest warrant for interrogation against 6 people who work with the organization, rendering the NGO inoperative while legal proceedings go on and the bank accounts are activated again. The crackdown also affects the international NGO Save the Children, which partners with Alimenta la Solidaridad. They’re accused of “money laundering” and “participation in an illicit organization.”  

December:

  • 28 Venezuelan migrants die at sea. The Guiria shipwreck exemplifies all that’s wrong with Venezuela. In an effort to reach Trinidad and Tobago, and the illusion of obtaining a more dignified life, Venezuelans have been leaving from the coasts of Guiria, on eastern Venezuela, for the last couple of years, but tragedies are becoming all the more common. Unfortunately, we should expect more accidents like these in the future.
  • The UN publishes its 2021 annual appeal for contributions to respond to the Venezuelan migrants and refugee crisis. They estimate that around $1.4 billion are needed to support host governments in providing migrant populations with access to health, shelter, food, water, sanitation and hygiene.  
  • IACHR makes a call to protect the rights of Venezuelan migrants and refugees returning to Venezuela in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding to the 50,000 that had already returned by June, new data from the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) estimates that around 331,322 Venezuelan migrants in irregular situations would be returning to Venezuela from Colombia by the year’s close. 

* Opinions are personal.  They do not represent those of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian

Maracucha Director of Social Inclusion at the OAS. Proud Political Scientist and Political Junkie, mismo nivel. Closet painter. Opinions are personal.