3 million people have fled Venezuela, says UNHCR

People continue to leave the troubled Latin-American country as the economic situation turns increasingly sour. Food shortages have become a part of everyday life.

The number of migrants and refugees who have fled Venezuela has reached 3 million, the United Nations announced on Thursday.

According to figures collected by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and the UN migration agency, IOM, over 2.4 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees are being hosted by countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Data from national immigration authorities shows that Colombia welcomed the highest numbers of people — for a total of more than 1 million.

Other countries in the region, such as Peru, Ecuador and Argentina, are also hosting hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees.

"Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have largely maintained a commendable open-door policy," said Eduardo Stein, UNHCR-IOM Joint Special Representative in a statement. 

Read more: Multilateral approach needed to contain Venezuela's refugee crisis, experts warn

The perilous flight out of Venezuela

Iconic image

Each day 30,000 to 40,000 people cross the 315-meter-long (1,000-foot-long) Simon Bolivar bridge (pictured) between Venezuela and Colombia. Since September 2015 some 20 million Venezuelans have crossed into the neighboring Colombian province of Norte de Santander, says its governor William Villamizar. At the same time, he adds, 17 million individuals have been registered as entering Venezuela.

The perilous flight out of Venezuela

Shopping over the border

Most Venezuelans come to Colombia to stock up on basic food stuff and medicine. It is cheaper there than in their own country, where inflation has spiraled out of control and made the Bolivar, Venezuela's currency, nearly worthless. Some 3 million citizens are thought to have permanently migrated to Colombia.

The perilous flight out of Venezuela

Refugiados welcome?

Colombians initially welcomed fleeing Venezuelans with open arms, just like Germans welcomed refugees in summer 2015. But now, experts say, the mood has shifted. Many have begun demanding the government provide less financial support to refugees and instead invest more in helping ordinary Colombians. However, aid for refugees is still provided in reception centers (above).

The perilous flight out of Venezuela

Heading south

According to official figures, approximately 1 million Venezuelan nationals currently reside in Colombia. Given that a total of 3 million Venezuelans crossed into Colombia, about 2 million must have traveled onward. In the first half of 2018 alone, over 500,000 of them migrated to Colombia's southern neighbor Ecuador.

The perilous flight out of Venezuela

Stopover in Ecuador

Ecuadorian authorities estimate that only 20 percent of Venezuelan nationals who arrived in the country in 2018 permanently settled there, like this family living in a makeshift camp near the capital, Quito. Most Venezuelans presumably intend to keep on traveling southward and reach either Peru, Chile or Argentina.

The perilous flight out of Venezuela

Hitting the brakes

After several days when some 5,000 Venezuelans wanted to cross from Colombia into Ecuador, Quito began demanding that Venezuelan nationals show valid passports to emigrate, rather than just an ID as was previously needed. This new regulation applies to adults. For children, proof of paternity and parental passports is enough to let them cross the border.

The perilous flight out of Venezuela

Chain reaction

After Ecuador Peru followed suit, announcing it would implement the same regulation in the near future. Peruvian Interior Minister Mauro Medina said that about 80 percent of Venezuelan refugees arrive with valid passports, but many Venezuelan NGOs warn that passports have now become luxury items in the crisis-stricken country, requiring large sums of cash or high-level contacts to acquire one.

The perilous flight out of Venezuela

Tension in the air

More than 100,000 Venezuelans have migrated to Brazil since 2016, most of them to the country's north. From there, roughly half them travel onward to Ecuador and Peru. The situation in northern Brazil is tense: The country's government has said it will redistribute Venezuelan immigrants to other regions. Critics have accused the government authorities of failing to support Brazil's border region.

The perilous flight out of Venezuela

Attacks and confrontations

Last weekend, local residents in the Brazilian border town of Pacaraima attacked makeshift camps housing Venezuelan refugees. They set their dwellings on fire and drove hundreds back across the border. Media reports say Brazilian police did nothing to stop the mob violence. The attack was said to be triggered by the robbery of a Brazilian businessman — a crime allegedly committed by refugees.

The rising number of people fleeing Venezuela is taking a toll on its neighboring countries, with increased needs both for the refugees and for the communities who host them.

The reception capacity of these countries "is severely strained," Stein said. The UN is calling on the international community to support a humanitarian response to the crisis.

Read more: Venezuela creates migration police to strengthen border controls

Why so many are fleeing the country

Venezuela is facing a severe financial crisis, which worsened under the leadership of President Nicolas Maduro.

Related Subjects

The country's oil-based economy has suffered from a drop in global oil prices and political and financial mismanagement.

The crisis has led to record levels of hyperinflation. With soaring prices of everyday items, food and medicine shortages have become common across the country.

According to data released this week by Venezuela's parliament, the annual inflation rate has almost doubled in the last year.

Venezuela: What can a bolivar buy?

Millions for chicken

You will need to shell out a whopping 14.6 million bolivars ($2.2, €1.9) for a 2.4 kilogram chicken in Caracas.

Venezuela: What can a bolivar buy?

Expensive deal

A kilogram of tomato will set you back by 5 million bolivars.

Venezuela: What can a bolivar buy?

Serious crisis

Be ready to pay 2.6 million bolivars for a toilet paper roll in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. Yes, you read it right.

Venezuela: What can a bolivar buy?

Worthless currency?

Three-and-a-half millions — that's how much you will have to pay for a packet of sanitary pads in Caracas.

Venezuela: What can a bolivar buy?

Which is heavier?

One kilogram rice? Well, that will cost you 2.5 million bolivars.

Venezuela: What can a bolivar buy?

Is it worth?

A packet of diapers for your baby can you set you back by a staggering 8 million bolivars.

Venezuela: What can a bolivar buy?

Forget saying 'cheese'

You will have to cough up 7,500,000 bolivars for a kilogram of cheese. But hold on, that may change with the Venezuelan government set to issue new paper money with five fewer zeros. So, just 75 bolivars for a kilogram of cheese.