Venezuelan Refugees

The Venezuelan Exodus


Since 2015 Venezuela is affected by an unprecedented Complex Humanitarian Emergency. It is a country where citizens are dying of preventable causes and 3.5 million people have fled the worsening conditions.

Venezuelans are leaving their country due to its crumbling economy, violence, hyperinflation and shortage of food and medicines

The reasons for Venezuelans leaving goes from sheer hunger and lack of medical attention to violence and lack of security

A report by the United Nations and the Pan American Health Organization found that 1.3 million people who used to be able to feed themselves in Venezuela have had difficulty doing so since the economic crisis began in 2015.

About three-quarters of the population have lost, involuntarily, an average of 20 pounds.

In a five-month investigation by The New York Times, doctors at 21 public hospitals in 17 states across the country said that their emergency rooms were being overwhelmed by children with severe malnutrition — a condition they had rarely encountered before the economic crisis began.

at least 22,000 Venezuelan doctors – 55% of the total –24% of nurses and 30% of lab technicians have reportedly abandoned the country. Virtually no specialists are left

Last national surveys of hospitals done by  Venezuelan nonprofits Medicos reported that 51 percent didn’t have functioning X-ray machines, 60 percent were having electricity outages, and 70 percent were suffering water shortages.

53% of Venezuelan operating theatres were now closed, 71% of emergency rooms could not provide regular services, and 79% of hospitals lacked a reliable water supply.

The shortage of medicines in pharmacies is 85% and 88% in hospitals

The mass migration is one of the largest forced displacement in the western hemisphere

According to the United Nations during the early months of 2018, 5,000 Venezuelans were leaving their homeland each day.

This crisis has contributed to one of the most massive population movements in Latin American history.

According to a United Nations forecast around two million more Venezuelans are expected to flee their country during 2019. By the end of the year, the number of Venezuelans fleeing is expected to reach 5.3 million.

Governments in the region are putting in place regional and national plans and responses to meet urgent humanitarian needs while helping the inclusion of Venezuelans in their societies. The approach and Action Plan adopted within the Quito Process stresses the willingness of countries in the region to find a coordinated regional response for a regional problem, putting the protection of refugees and migrants from Venezuela at the forefront of their priorities. But the goodwill and generosity of Governments in the region and the local communities must not be taken for granted. The impact of the enormous quantities of arrivals on the services and economies of these receiving countries is immense and overburdens their institutional and financial capacity. It is time to scale up responses and mobilize international support.

Venezuelans Crossing Into Brazil

While most Central American migration mainly flows toward the U.S. and Canada, the majority of Venezuelans have remained in South America. Many of them are seeking refuge in neighboring Colombia and Brazil.

About 40,000 Venezuelans have headed south to Brazil, where their first port of call is the country’s most impoverished and least populated state, Roraima. They include at least 2,000 indigenous Warao from the Orinoco delta.

The Brazilian government estimates that 800 Venezuelans arrive in Brazil every day and more than 70,000 have crossed the border in the past year. Most cross the border near Pacaraima, in Brazil’s northern Roraima state, and continue for another 200 kilometers to capital Boa Vista.

The population of Boa Vista, the state capital, ballooned over the past few years as some 50,000 Venezuelans resettled here. They now make up roughly 10 percent of the population.

It is projected that there will be approximately 190,000 refugees and migrants from Venezuela in Brazil by the end of 2019, including an estimated 86,500 new arrivals over the coming year.

Desperate for care and often undocumented, Venezuelan patients are overwhelming Brazilian emergency rooms as they turn up by the thousands.

Dr. Kathleen Page, an infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, visited border towns in northern Brazil that are now hosting tens of thousands of migrants. Page, who is originally from Uruguay, says the local Brazilian hospitals are overwhelmed with incredibly sick people.

“ I felt that in these wards I was going back to the 1980s,” Page says. People were dying of opportunistic infections. They were emaciated, dying of chronic diarrhea, infections in their brain — things that we know are treatable and preventable. And to give credit to the Brazilian doctors, they were doing everything they could to help people, but the hospitals were at capacity.”

She traveled to the Brazil-Venezuela border as part of a fact-finding trip for Human Rights Watch.

“I interviewed over 100 people crossing the border, and I would ask them, ‘Why did you come?’ ” she says. “Ubiquitously the answer was food or health care.”

Many people told her they’d been surviving for months in Venezuela on a diet only of yucca, a rugged shrub that has a potato-like root.

In Boa Vista, capital of Roraima state, births of Venezuelan migrants at the city’s sole public maternity hospital rose from 288 in 2016 to 572 in 2017, providing the latest measure of the growing humanitarian challenge on Brazil’s border.

Forty percent of the births among Venezuelans in Boa Vista was considered high risk.

At the General Hospital of Roraima, the director, Samir Quad, says the daily patient population has surged from 400 per day to 1,000 over the past couple of years. Today 40% of total patients in hospitals of northern states of Brazil along with Venezuela border are Venezuelans.

That requires working his employees so hard that some of them end up getting sick, too, said Mr. Xuad. Medical supplies as essential as syringes and gloves have run out, he said, and during particularly busy periods, patient gurneys line up in hallways.

Brazil’s patient zero for measles was a 1-year-old Venezuelan child brought over the border in February 2018. Eight months later, more than 10,000 patients have contracted suspected infections in Amazonas state alone, as the virus hopscotched across a local population that was not sufficiently vaccinated. New cases are growing at a rate of 170 a week.

The spread of illnesses like measles has underscored the dangerous weakness of the vaccination programs in countries like Brazil. When measles swept in from Venezuela, almost one-third of Amazonas state’s 4 million inhabitants were unvaccinated.

"As Toas hospital’s beds stand empty, 2-year-old Anailin Nava is wasting away in a nearby hut from malnutrition and treatable muscular paralysis. Her mother, Maibeli Nava, does not have money to take her to Colombia for treatment "

Photo Credit: Meridith Kohut for The New York Times