Venezuelan Migration: Causes and Effects of the Mounting Humanitarian Crisis

Dossier Group 1: Ally Russell, Binwant Kahlon, Tracy Gordon, Karla Gomez

Executive Summary

Venezuelan migrants travel to Peru for asylum in the backs of trucks. Photo credit: Juan Vita The Guardian

The country once overflowing with oil, now does not have enough food to line the shelves of its grocery stores, or enough funding to provide water to sinks in homes across the nation. Now, people wait on the side of highways, waiting to collect water that trickles down from the mountains after rainfall. Instead of oil-generated revenue pouring it, it is citizens that are fleeing with the little that they can carry. The current estimates put the amount of Venezuelans leaving their country at 3,000,000 and that number is expected to rise, on track to surpass the migration crisis witnessed in Syria. While Venezuelans are fleeing their country due to an economic and state collapse that has generated massive shortages of food, livelihood, and health services, the same tensions seen during the Syrian conflict amongst the international community have risen- who is to blame for the crisis, what is the best way to accept the migrants, and what are the limitations of receiving countries?

The U.S. has given around $40,000,000 in aid to Venezuela indirectly- the Venezuelan government is not accepting foreign aid, so humanitarian regimes must strategically funnel aid to countries receiving migrants, like in this case study, Colombia. Venezuela’s refusal of aid is part of a larger, ongoing, political discussion on who is to blame for this crisis and the appropriate measures international actors should take. Maduro and the Venezuelan government blames the black market for smuggling goods out of the country and countries like the US for waging an economic war against Venezuela, trying to weaken it enough to force an avenue of intervention. While a majority of outside countries and analysts conclude that a reliance on imports contributed to the political economic crisis and the resulting human rights violations that forced Venezuelans to flee, discovering into the cause itself is not so straightforward. The discussion of who is to blame  bleeds into the conversation of what actions need to be done about the leadership of Venezuela. Should Nicolás Maduro be forced out of office via military coup, or is that leeway for capitalist, imperialist powers like the US to exert control over the area rich in oil supply? While that debate wages on, other groups have focused on what to do about the humanitarian migration crisis.

The United Nations High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) released an action plan based on the work of ninety-five aid organizations on how to best receive, support, and assist refugees, while working within the structural constraints of each receiving nation. Ecuador held a summit for countries receiving migrants to have a discussion on the most conducive way to assimilate and accept arriving migrants. However, the aid given to migrants is also dependent on another factor: whether those fleeing Venezuela are “migrants” or “refugees.” Most countries recognize “refugees” as a people fleeing from fear or occurrence of persecution relating to identity or political opinion. Current definitions do not recognize economic needs and basic needs as justification for refugee status. Furthermore, refugee is a legal category, each case has to be officially approved by the UN, the magnitude of the crisis taken into account. However, Latin American nations understands “refugee” from the definition given in the Cartagena Declaration of Refugees in 1984, which broadens the definition as someone fleeing from “massive violation of human rights or other circumstances that have disturbed public order.” Under this definition, the collapse of the Venezuelan state should render Venezuelans fleeing the country as refugees, however, most countries receiving migrants have not embraced them as such. In reality, these host nations have used a mixed definition of “migrants” and “refugees” to describe the current migrant situation. This distinction is important because “refugees” are entitled to more rights than migrants. Receiving countries now focus on incorporating and assimilating Venezuelans as migrants rather refugees because of the enhanced protections that would entail, however, this has brought on additional problems and shortcomings in international aid organizations’ ability to protect the rights of fleeing Venezuelans.

Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru are the countries that have accepted the most migrants but face with difficulties of receiving and providing for them as the crisis continues and they have started to cut back on their generosity. Colombia, which was once hailed for its openness toward refugees as they welcomed Venezuelans not as burdens but rather additions to their workforce, has curtailed its generosity due to growing concerns of its own civilians. Fear that Venezuelans are stealing jobs from Colombians, health concerns over the diseases that Venezuelans might bring to the populace, and concerns over increased crime and violence has contributed to xenophobia rhetoric that has limited the mobility of migrants. The same concerns and rhetoric have led to the burning of migrants camps in Brazil, advertisements in Ecuador offering $50 for punching a Venezuelan in the face, more women forced into underground, sex-work industries rather than job permits, and the rise of dangerous propaganda that posits Venezuelans as harbingers of crime and violence.

These effects are common features of migration crises: receiving countries are receptive to a point, after that, nationalist rhetoric takes over as concerns regarding resources emerge. Circling back, concern over resources is what initially prompted Venezuelan migration. This leads to the core point of the dossier, that the migration crisis embodies and begets human rights violations. The same fight for basic necessities and the right to life that forces people to leave, is the same fight that leads to presumptive fears over migrants and further violations of human rights- whether that be in the form of burning migrant camps or taking advantage of desperate Venezuelans. This is the focus of our dossier- to explore the human rights violations that led to migration and the ones that have emerged from these violations that all together, make migration all the more difficult to understand from a global perspective and to address. Our dossier focuses on human rights issues that are both causal and resultant as well as ones that are beyond the usual interpretation of human rights violations.

Children’s Rights

The socioeconomic crisis in Venezuela has affected one of the most vulnerable sectors of society: children. Since the crisis escalated from the economic to the humanitarian arena, Venezuelan children have suffered from severe malnutrition and limited access to health resources. In addition, children are directly affected by their parents’ lack of employment and available income. This lack of parental economic stability has created more situations of uncertainty for many children’s education, forcing them to stop going to school to support their parents and sometimes find jobs themselves. All of these causes have propagated children to abandon school or limit their time in school, disrupting not only their own development but the future educated demographics of their country. Children have become victims of the Venezuelan government’s inability to supply their most vulnerable citizens with the most basic elements for proper human development. The Venezuelan government is violating children’s human rights, by not providing or ensuring proper access to education, nourishment, and healthcare.

According to UNICEF, an estimate of 460,000 children have been forced to migrate in search of a better life out of Venezuela (UNICEF, “Migration Flows.”) Some of these children travel along with their parents. Others embark on this dangerous journey unaccompanied, in an effort to reunite with their parents who have migrated and settled in neighboring countries, such as Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador. Children who travel unaccompanied depend on resources from international non-profit organizations such as UNICEF, IRC, and IOM. Data from these international organizations claim that children are not only being affected by the internal socioeconomic burden upon Venezuela, but are also more prone to falling victim to human trafficking and abuses during their migration journey. According to reports and data provided from international refugee camps, the Venezuelan government is unwilling to provide migrant children with any protectional rights, let alone search for solutions to avoid thousands of children having  to migrate unaccompanied from Venezuela. Therefore, proper protection of the rights of Venezuelan children is currently being overseen by international nonprofit organizations, a reflection of the failure of Venezuela’s government and its responsibility to its most vulnerable citizens. The following dossier presents a closer look at aspects of the current crisis affecting children and adolescents who migrate from Venezuela. As well, the dossier analyzes the causes of this migration, the deployment of aid by international organizations, Venezuela’s inability to provide basic human development materials, dangers of human trafficking and abuse, as well as the government’s response to the children’s humanitarian crisis.


Environmental factors have surfaced as one of the lesser broadcasted violations in Maduro’s Venezuela but that does not take away from its effect on thousands of Venezuelan people. The mass exodus of Venezuelans has created two types of cases of human rights violations. The first is that the mass migration has resulted in the collapse of Venezuela’s infrastructure industry. Migration has emptied occupations of critical personnel that perform maintenance and prevention work for critical environmental sectors such as city pollution, water pipe maintenance, and road clearing. Given Venezuela’s geographic location, which allows for earthquakes and landslides to disable large cities in less than minutes, these are critical jobs. With improper care from the government the people are left with unsanitary conditions due to improper disposal and lack of people to do these jobs. Those who have left have also left many behind, forced to deal with the result of the governmental crisis and elimination of basically all government-funded city management and maintenance jobs.

The second case of human rights violations is the environmental crisis that is happening right now in countries that border Venezuela where many are fleeing to. Brazil in particular has been inundated by migrants that have set up temporary, makeshift camps. While their intentions are to escape problems in Venezuela, they have created more in Brazil. These camps remain largely unofficial hubs for displacement migrants, meaning the Brazilian government is not helping to regulate them. The people are left to dispose of their trash and human waste however possible, without proper infrastructure. Improper waste management  has immediate impacts on Brazilian waterways that are essential to the surrounding ecosystems as well as the neighboring towns that rely on that water source for drinking water and irrigation. These environmental concerns are an example of the resultant problems and human rights violations that stem from the migration crises.

Venezuelan migrants prepare for departure to Colombia, standing in front of Bolivares mural. Photo Credit: Financial Times


The mounting health crisis in Venezuela has immediate and far-reaching implications for not only the Latin American region, but the larger global community. Today, the majority of Venezuelans live in conditions of extreme poverty. Conditioned to rely on government subsidies for healthcare and food, now many have no way of accessing medical facilities or paying for basic, life-sustaining materials. Among the millions fleeing the nation are thousands of trained medical personnel, fleeing the nation’s economic crisis and lack of employment opportunities. The majority of hospitals are either completely closed down, lacking qualified personnel, operating equipment, basic vaccines, medicines, or all of the above. Cases of previously-controlled infectious diseases are skyrocketing not only in Venezuela, but in neighboring nations as well that are hosting thousands of migrants. The potential for the global spread of these diseases remains high, as many are forced to migrate in hopes of accessing treatment options. Alongside this crisis, maternal and infant mortality has risen. Although the health crisis in Venezuela emerged as a direct result of irresponsible management of government funds and reliance on the oil industry to prop up unsustainable welfare programs, when compounded with the issue of migration, the health crisis has the potential to have visible and longstanding impacts that extend far beyond the Southern Hemisphere.

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