Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

2021 Migration Year in Review

One more year of increases in the number of Venezuelans leaving the country. As of the close of 2021, there are now 6 million Venezuelans abroad

With 6 million forcibly displaced Venezuelans, the balance regarding their situation is mixed. Whereas there are still many Venezuelans in dire conditions and awaiting the possibility of regularizing their status, we also saw positive developments regarding their reception and integration in receiving countries. 

We’re seeing—or at least I want to believe we’re seeing—positive developments in protection and regularization measures to receive and integrate Venezuelans. And I say they are positive because they happened despite somewhat restrictive regulatory frameworks, and regardless of the significant budgetary limitations countries face,  which have been aggravated by the pandemic. 

It’s evident that our diaspora keeps growing and that the challenges keep getting bigger. So we must continue advocating for Venezuelans in the country and abroad.

January

  • Right before he left office on January 19th, 2021, President Trump approved the deferral of deportations for some Venezuelans, a measure called Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). Beneficiaries of the DED are protected against deportation and thus able to live and work in the U.S. It does not, however, regularize their status in the U.S.
  • In Argentina, a young Venezuelan migrant woman was drugged and sexually abused by her employer on her first day reporting to work. The crime revealed the vulnerability to gender violence Venezuelan migrant women face as they settle in their receiving countries.

February 

  • Colombia approved the Estatuto de Protección Temporal para Venezolanos (EPTV) or temporary protective status for all  Venezuelans, allowing them to legally work in the country, access healthcare and other essential services and request residency after ten years. The approval of the TPS in Colombia is considered to be the most important humanitarian gesture for Venezuelans worldwide.
  • A trend that started in early 2021, growing numbers of Venezuelans decide to brave the Chilean altiplano as they migrate on foot to meet family and friends. The small town of Colchane, in the north of Chile bordering Bolivia, becomes the epicenter of the new expression of the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis.

March

  • On March 8th, President Biden announced the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelans in the United States, a campaign promise. The TPS designation offers legal protections to Venezuelans fleeing the humanitarian crisis for 18 months. 
  • A new trend towards the feminization of Venezuelan migration was reported, and we covered it here. While Venezuelan migrants were once mostly men, women started to migrate at similar rates. Anecdotal accounts also indicate a growing number of young women with many children (their own and those of other women), who are also making the trip on foot via Colombia.
  • More than 3,000 people were forcibly displaced to Colombia as a result of the drug-linked border violence between the Venezuelan National Guard and FARC dissidents. Colombia set up camps and humanitarian assistance centers to protect the displaced population. 

April

  • Tragedy continues to plague the Venezuelan migration crisis. At least three Venezuelans died in a shipwreck en route to Trinidad from Delta Amacuro. 
  • With an estimated 430,000 Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Ecuador, newly elected President Guillermo Lasso announced a new regularization process for Venezuelans in the country. 

May

  • The Quito Process meeting takes place virtually, with Peru in the pro tempore presidency. The countries participating in the process signed a Joint Declaration reaffirming their commitment to continue supporting solutions for the 4.6 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela in Latin America and the Caribbean, whose vulnerabilities have been exacerbated in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Areas of focus prioritized include refugee and asylum issues; orientation centers, temporary reception, and support spaces; education; gender equality; protection of girls, boys, and adolescents; socio-economic insertion; family reunification; human trafficking; COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS.

June

  • We covered it here. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities confirmed that, just in April, over 6,000 Venezuelans, including men, women, children, babies and seniors, crossed the border with Mexico through the desert or through the Rio Grande. This puts the Venezuelan migrant and refugee crisis at a new juncture: Venezuelans join Central Americans and Haitians using coyotes to cross some borders.
  • On June 17th, 2021, Canada hosted the International Donors’ Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants in collaboration with UNHCR and IOM to increase awareness of the second-largest displacement crisis in the world, highlight significant host country and international community efforts to date and mobilize needed additional resources. In total, the conference mobilized around US$2.79 billion in pledges. 

July

  • The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) released a fact sheet about Venezuela, reporting that, in addition to the 7 million in the country, there are 5.6 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees in need of humanitarian assistance. Other reports indicate that nine out of ten migrants face food insecurity during the COVID19 pandemic.

August

  • The second phase of the process to access temporary protected status by Venezuelans in Colombia begins. More than a million Venezuelan citizens registered for biometric identification. The Colombian government’s goal is to fully identify at least 800,000 Venezuelan migrants before the end of 2021.

September

  • An anti-migration protest in Iquique in Chile ended with a violent attack against Venezuelan migrants and refugees. Locals burned their belongings in public. Chilean authorities investigated the attacks. 
  • The 2020-2021 National Survey of Living Conditions (ENCOVI), conducted by researchers at Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB), was published. The study found that of the country’s 28 million residents, 76.6 percent live in extreme poverty, up from 67.7 percent last year. Poverty, food insecurity, and limited access to health services continue to be push factors for Venezuelan migrants and refugees.

October

  • After years of being closed (circa 2015), authorities of the Maduro regime announced the re-opening of its border with Colombia. As explained by the planned November electoral event, the Venezuelan regime sought electoral support from border communities who depend on pendular migration to provide for their goods and medicines. 

November

  • The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Mr. Karim A.A. Khan QC, opened an investigation into the Situation in Venezuela and signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the government. Forced displacement is considered a crime against humanity. 
  • The Darien Gap, the most dangerous migratory route in the region, becomes the new frontier for Venezuelan migrants and refugees. The latest data by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reveals an increase in the number of Venezuelan migrants arriving through the Darien route from 66 in 2017 to 1,529 by September 2021, a 2,216.66% increase.

December

  • IOM and UNHCR launch a US$1.79 billion regional plan to support the increasing needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela and their host communities across 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • According to data by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, 6,038,937 is the number of Venezuelans who have left the country by 2021. 

This Migration Review shows the main milestones for the year, but it doesn’t cover the remaining challenges for Venezuelans in receiving countries. There are many, but as 2022 gets closer, let’s not forget we still need to find solutions for:

  1. Venezuelans’ limited access to passports, a requirement for them to regularize their status in most countries. 
  2. Venezuelans’ degrees being recognized, as this would allow them to integrate in the productive sector with benefits for them and their families as well as for the receiving countries.
  3. Venezuelans’ real economic and social inclusion. We need to move away from “the myth of the problem solved” (el mito del problema resuelto) with the approval of the regularization measures reviewed here. Real inclusion will happen when displaced Venezuelans can have dignified housing and employment or at least opportunities to become economically independent, can have full access to health services, when migrant and refugee children have full access to education, and the like.

As more Venezuelans keep leaving the country, we must be even more united in advocating for their rights and inclusion, wherever we are. 

* 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.