Venezuela refugee crisis evokes darkest days of Europe in 2015, UN warns

The exodus of migrants from Venezuela is building towards a “crisis moment” comparable to the European refugee crisis of 2015, the UN has warned.

Thousands of people flee the country every day, traveling by bus or sometimes by foot along migration routes across South America. 

They flee an economic collapse that has left food and basic medicine scarce while armed gangs rob and kill without consequence.

“There is no life for us in Venezuela,” said Boris Guevara, 22, standing by piled luggage and his four friends at the bustling Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia. “All of the young people are migrating to support our families and search for a better life, because everybody needs to eat.”

According to the UN, more than two million Venezuelans have fled their country since 2014, the year after populist revolutionary leader Hugo Chavez died, handing power to current president Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver and Cuban-trained union organiser.

Venezuelan presidential candidate Henri Falcon of the Avanzada Progresista party, delivers a speech to supporters during a campaign rally in CaracasCredit:

Hyperinflation has also racked the economy, where people now buy basic food items with heaping piles of cash. Savings accounts have evaporated and the monthly minimum salary has dwindled to a few dollars.

“One must work all week to buy one bag of rice,” said Arbelei Gomez, 27, a Venezuelan who crosses into Colombia each day to work.

The International Monetary Fund has forecast Venezuelan annual inflation will hit 1,000,000% by the end of 2018.

The ever-growing exodus is already overwhelming countries of the region. Venezuelans travel by bus or sometimes on foot into Colombia then on to Ecuador, Peru, Chile or Argentina. Others cross South into the Amazon region of Brazil.

Indigenous Warao people from the Orinoco Delta in eastern Venezuela, are pictured on hammocks at a shelter in Boa VistaCredit:

Nearby countries have offered generous migration policies to the Venezuelans, who often arrived undocumented. But the generosity appears to be running out this month as the migrant tide swelled.

Ecuador began denying passage to Venezuelans without valid passports, leaving hundreds of people stranded at its border within days of enacting the rule. The measure was quickly repealed after Ecuador’s public defender argued in court that the measure had “no effect” on slowing the Venezuelan arrivals.

Peru is set to enact its own passport requirements for Venezuelans this week. Meanwhile Brazil in August deployed more military to its northern border after violent confrontations between locals and migrants. The country considered closing its Venezuelan border but decided against it.

Colombia, which has borne the brunt of the exodus from its neighbor, on Monday will host migration authorities from Ecuador and Peru to develop a strategy to manage the crisis.

“This is a problem for the region and that his how we should approach it,” said Christian Kruger, Colombian migration chief, in a statement. “We should find common practices that allow us to have a documented, ordered and safe migration in the region.”