Portfolio: Explosive economy of Venezuela causes refugee crisis

On a rainy Wednesday before Easter, hundreds of Venezuelan immigrants shuffled into the brick-walled patio of the Casa de Paso Divina Providencia in the Colombian border town of Villa del Rosario, sat at long wooden tables and waited patiently for to have lunch. A priest promulgated mass before dozens of church volunteers served steaming fountains of rice, lentils and sausages. The immigrants settled.


Many wore ragged clothes. His sunken cheeks and thin limbs suggested that this was his first decent meal in days. The children were barefoot. A man came in on his crutches, his right leg amputated below the knee. Another came pushing an old woman in a wheelchair.

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These are the victims, often desperate, of the worst migration crisis in the recent history of Latin America. Some had arrived from Venezuela that morning, escaping from food shortages, hyperinflation, the collapse of the economy, diseases and violence.

Others had been in Colombia for days or weeks, looking for work, looking for food, sleeping in the streets and avoiding being deported.

While the eyes of the world have focused on the crisis of the Syrian refugees and the exodus of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, the humanitarian disaster in Venezuela has gone relatively unnoticed. But the large number of people who are now fleeing the country is changing that. The UNHCR says that 5,000 migrants leave every day; At that rate, 1.8 million people, more than 5% of the population of Venezuela, will leave this year.

It was not always like that. For decades, Venezuela was a net importer of people, attracting Europeans with lucrative oil jobs. A generation ago, it was the richest country in Latin America.

When Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, launching the socialist 'Bolivarian Revolution', some wealthy Venezuelans left, fearing Cuban-style communism. But the vast majority of Venezuelans stayed and many enjoyed the benefits of Chávez's oil-funded social programs. Only recently there has been a massive migration of Venezuelans driven by the collapse of the economy and the deterioration of the revolution, under the leadership of Maduro.

Many go west to Colombia, which, coming out of a long civil conflict of its own, is ill-equipped to receive them. Today there are more than 600,000 Venezuelans in Colombia, twice as many as a year ago.

While Colombia has been the country most affected by the Venezuelan exodus, it is far from being the only country that faces this challenge.

UNHCR says that 40,000 Venezuelan immigrants arrived in Peru in the first two months of this year. Thousands more have emigrated to Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Spain, EE. UU and beyond. Boats carrying Venezuelan immigrants have docked on Caribbean islands. In January, one turned up in front of Curaçao, where at least four people died.

The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum abroad has skyrocketed by 2,000% since 2014. Brazil is another country that has received a large influx. In total, authorities and international organizations estimate that some 70,000 Venezuelans have fled south to Brazil.

The collapse of the Venezuelan health system has caused a resurgence of previously controlled diseases. The government no longer provides reliable medical data: when the health minister revealed last year that the number of cases of malaria had increased by 76% in one year, deaths related to pregnancy had increased by 66% and infant mortality had Uploaded 30%, was fired immediately.

A recent survey conducted by the opposition suggested that 79% of Venezuelan hospitals have little or no running water.

The British Medical Journal recently reported on an acute contraceptive shortage "that contributes to peaks in unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, maternal and infant mortality and sexually transmitted diseases." HIV and AIDS rates have risen in Venezuela to levels not seen since the 1980s. Measles, eradicated in much of Latin America, have returned. Of the 730 cases confirmed in the region last year, all but three were in Venezuela. As people flee, they take the disease with them. In the first months of this year, there were 14 confirmed cases in Brazil and one in Colombia. The 15 victims were Venezuelan immigrants.

"People are running away because if they stay, they die," says Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution in Washington. "They are dying because they do not get enough food to eat; because they contract malaria and can not receive treatment