Photo: Human Rights Watch

How Much Should a Venezuelan Refugee Cost?

Brookings insists that the Venezuelan mass migration crisis receives ten times less funding from the international community than Syria’s, despite their comparable magnitude

Brookings has been following Venezuela for many years, in my very humble opinion, with rigor and an open mind, alleging since 2020 that our refugee crisis is severely underfunded. The most recent update by Dany Bahar (Senior Fellow who covers global economy and development) and Meegan Dooley (Senior Research Analyst in global economy and development at the Center for Sustainable Development) acknowledges a change of pace in the Venezuelan mass migration due to the pandemic-related mobility restrictions, still estimating 700,000 new migrants in 2019 and 2020, which amounts to 5.3 million Venezuelans who had left the country until the end of 2020. Bahar and Dooley insist that, amid three massive migration crises in modern history, Venezuela’s comes second by 2020, between the 6.6 million Syrians who fled since their crisis started, and 2.3 million South Sudanese. 

However, they say, “in the case of Syria (…) with updated figures as of the end of 2020, there’s been over $20.8 billion of funding (in total) since the beginning of the exodus. In the case of Venezuela, by 2020, the number was only $1.4 billion—a much smaller number despite the similarity in the number of refugees. As another point of comparison, we find that international assistance to the 2.3 million refugees from South Sudan totals $3.2 billion.” 

The math confirms their previous claim that our crisis is being underfunded: “Based on the figures for 2020, total funding per refugee amounts to $3,150 per Syrian, $1,390 per South Sudanese, and just $265 per Venezuelan.”

That is to say, they’re counting every Venezuelan abroad as a refugee, even thoughas many Caracas Chronicles readers could sayhundreds of thousands of us Venezuelans living abroad are not refugees in terms of what that means for international law, but immigrants or expats who don’t have that status in the host countries and are able to visit Venezuela if we want. I understand, notwithstanding, that Bahar and Dooley have to extend in such way the “refugee” category given their need to compare with the cases of South Sudan and Syria, and the impossibility, in all the three cases, of establishing how many immigrants, exiled or refugees there are within the totality.  

The underfunding, Brookings researchers also say, wouldn’t be corrected in the best scenario: if the UN meets the goal of increasing funding for Venezuelan refugees to $3 billion, it still would amount to about $600 per person, or more, if we don’t distribute those $3 billion between all the Venezuelans abroad but only on the refugees on the borders of the countries receiving them.

Bahar and Dooley also analyze the conditions under which that funding is given, and analyze the mutual history of dealing with migrant influx between Venezuela and Colombia, after the latter’s historic announcement of temporary protection that would protect almost a million Venezuelans in that country for ten years.

We can assume that the European Union has the resources, the institutional network, and the need to spend more money on the Syrian refugee crisis, given that it hits its coasts, roads, and cities directly. But that doesn’t provide all the answers.

As Betica Muñoz Pogossian has been consistently showing, there are many reasons to increase the support for Venezuelan migrants, from a human rights and international cooperation point of view. Colombia, in particular, needs more money to deal with our people crossing the border in big numbers, as it’s happening again: read our interview with the Colombian borders manager. Still, the funds are still lacking, and even opposition leaders have had to remember their international allies the promises made. And we all know the world has plenty of urgent matters competing for aid funds and the attention of decision-makers. 

But, why has the Venezuelan migrant crisis, which exerts such pressure on the neighboring states and is propelling xenophobia and human trafficking, failed to mobilize the resources it obviously demands to reduce its impact on the region? What happened with the funds from the concert in Cucuta? Was everyone just waiting for Maduro to fall? 

We can assume that the European Union has the resources, the institutional network, and the need to spend more money on the Syrian refugee crisis, given that it hits its coasts, roads, and cities directly. But that doesn’t provide all the answers. I can think of a couple of reasons beyond national and international budgets, or weak lobbying, or the influence the Maduro regime and its allies could have on the UN system. 

One reason is that Latin America, in general, has become a sort of forgotten place on the map of global sensibility: Latino migrants tend to be seen as a U.S. problem, not so much Europe’s, Canada’s, or, even less, Asia’s. I wonder if the Mediterranean drama, with its powerful images of sinking boats and burned cities, makes a rich country reach for its  wallet fasterand if a case like South Sudan’s, a new country in the heart of Africa, looks more pressing after the Hollywood-supported cause against the Darfur massacres.

The other reason could be that Venezuela was seen, for decades, as an affluent country, because of that oil that is currently useless for migrants. We were the rich boy in the neighborhood, until not so long ago; a few years before we turned into a pump of migrants, Chávez was still buying friendships with cheap barrels and suitcases full of cash. Now, we can’t be a petrostate anymorethat’s precisely why many of us leftbut the shadow of that lost prosperity may be stronger than the abundant footage of our desperate people crossing the bridge to Colombia or the strait to Trinidad.

Rafael Osío Cabrices

Journalist and author. His most recent book is Apuntes bajo el aguacero: cien crónicas empantanadas (La Hoja del Norte).