The Venezuela refugee situation is “building towards a crisis moment”, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) has warned, with the organisation’s spokesperson likening it to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.
Many Venezuelans are choosing to leave their country as a result of the recession which has gone on for almost five years now. According to the UN, 1.6 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015, 90 percent of whom went to countries within South America.
“This is building to a crisis moment that we’ve seen in other parts of the world, particularly the Mediterranean,” Joel Millman, IOM spokesperson, said on Friday.
“We have to start lining up priorities and funding and means to manage this as soon as we can.”
This week, Ecuador and Peru said those without valid passports would be denied entry, in a move affecting hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who were previously allowed to cross the border with paper ID cards instead.
Since the announcement of the new passport rules, Colombia’s migration authority said it recorded a decrease in traffic over official border crossings and an increase in the use of irregular crossings.
But only allowing those with a passport might lead to problems, Millman said.
“When we see things like passports only, we point out that there are a lot of migrants, particularly teenagers and unaccompanied children, that may not have access to these documents,” said Millman.
‘Solidarity is key’
Millman’s remarks echoed statements by other UN agencies warning that the new passport requirement will expose people to “further risk of exploitation, trafficking and violence”.
Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, called on other countries to help those fleeing Venezuela.
“We are concerned about these recent events, and the demonstrations against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in some of the Latin American countries,” said Mahehic.
“Those increase stigmatisation of those who are forced to flee, they put at risk the efforts of integration,” he added. “Solidarity is the key here.”
The currency has fallen 99.99 percent against the US dollar on the black market since President Nicolas Maduro came to power in April 2013.
Maduro blames the crisis on an economic war led by opposition leaders with the help of the US, which last year levied several rounds of sanctions against his administration.