By Amadeus Narbutt
The migration crisis brewing in Venezuela and the surrounding region will represent a political challenge of epic proportions in the coming years. As the economic situation in Venezuela further deteriorates, waves of Venezuelans have fled to neighbouring states in search of security and sustenance. The human rights situation in Venezuela is frightening with a UN report highlighting the human rights abuses and scale of poverty in the country, including cases of targeted political repression and persecution, arbitrary detention, the exiling of journalists, excessive use of force, torture, failures in the justice system, human trafficking, and violence against indigenous communities. Further, this is all occurring in a state where poverty levels are staggering due to the depth of the economic crisis taking place.
Already, UN estimates put the number of Venezuelans who have fled their country at 4 million. Due to recent border restrictions targeting Venezuelan migrants in Chile and Peru, Colombia has taken the largest proportion of those fleeing Venezuela, with their intake currently totaling at 1.3 million displaced persons. The Organization of American States (OAS) has projected that the exodus will total between 7.5 million and 8.2 million persons by 2020.
For a comprehensive understanding of the scale of this crisis, it is helpful to compare it to the Syrian migrant crisis and the impact it had on the European Union (EU). Syria saw 6.7 million people displaced over the course of eight years, however, only a portion of those migrants entered Europe, as several million were settled in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. And yet, the resulting political backlash in the EU has been a significant factor in the continent’s political instability over the past few years. The migrant crisis was significant factor in Brexit, as well as the rise of Eurosceptic politicians and parties like Marine LaPen, Matteo Salvini, and Germany’s AfD. This is all despite the EU possessing an admittedly flawed, but still functional EU-wide migration institution, the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Latin American states do not possess such a comprehensive mechanism for migration cooperation between states. The regional political vehicle which could have assisted in this regard, the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASUR), has effectively collapsed as of 2019 due to several governments protesting its left-wing Pink Tide origins. Meanwhile, a rival organization, PROSUR, has been established, but crucially does not include Venezuela, and the OAS has traditionally been dominated by US interests, which are unlikely to be cooperative in the age of the Trump Presidency.
The political shockwaves of this migratory crisis will be significant, and regional actors seem unprepared to handle its blowback.