Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

3 million people have already fled a crashing economy and political repression in Venezuela, and if the situation does not improve, millions more could follow.

his story originally appeared in The Lowdown, ABP’s weekly roundup of news, culture, holy-shit awesomeness, event updates & exclusive offers delivered straight to your inbox. Click here to subscribe.


Remember the “migrant caravan”? Just a month ago, some Americans were seriously freaked about a few thousand Central Americans walking toward the border. (Psst. Apprehensions at the border are actually way down.)

Today, people are more interested in a Dodge Caravan than the migrant version, but a true refugee crisis is occurring farther south in a place the United States considered invading not too long ago.

An estimated 3 million people have fled Venezuela, where the country has been in recession since 2014, basic everyday needs like food and simple medical supplies have grown scarce, and the government has reacted to assassination attempts on President Nicholas Maduro by violently suppressing any dissent. Today, the flood of people across its borders continues. Colombia alone has taken in an estimated 1 million Venezuelan refugees.

More to come: Maduro continues to consolidate and cling to power, and there’s no clear conclusion to Venezuela’s crisis. As the exodus of people expands, Venezuela is quickly losing its young, educated work force. A recent Brookings Institute analysis, factoring in the price of oil (the crucial cog to Venezuela’s economy) and other variables, predicts the total number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees around the world could reach 8.2 million (about 20% of the population)—a figure that would eclipse the Syrian refugee crisis. And that’s if conditions in Venezuela don’t get worse.

The United Nations announced it would chip in $9.2 million in emergency relief funds to Venezuela in hopes of reversing the humanitarian crisis, but the folks at Brookings estimate “billions worth” of aid would be needed to stem the flow of refugees.

Mixed Welcome: Most of Latin America has opened its doors to the Venezuelan refugees and at least temporarily accommodated the influx. Mexico has granted nearly 100% of asylum applications from Venezuela during the crisis, but also has a huge backlog of undecided cases. Brazil and Chile have issued special visas to ease entry, but countries like Panama have restricted access.

Meanwhile, the United States has implemented policies to limit Venezuelan entrants. The Trump Administration has sanctioned and criticized Venezuela’s leadership under Nicholas Maduro, which migrants from the country thought might ease their path to asylum. Instead, Venezuelans are finding U.S. tourist visas harder to obtain than before, and roughly half of their asylum applications, which have skyrocketed in the last three years, are rejected. Last year, at least 250 Venezuelans were deported, up 36 percent compared to 2016, and at least 258 were deported in the first half of 2018.

While it’s true many of the people fleeing Venezuela do not fall under asylum law, chiefly because they are fleeing general violence and chaos rather than a specific threat, the rest of the hemisphere is finding ways to accommodate them, while the U.S. is conjuring reasons to turn them away.