The Crisis No One is Talking About

September 2020 – 9 min read
The migration patterns stemming from Venezuela’s economic collapse provide key ESG insights, especially for Colombia and other neighboring countries, and particularly when compared to the case of Syrian refugees in Turkey.


  • From 2015 to the end of 2019, 4.6 million Venezuelans—or 16% of the population—fled the country, and according to some estimates that number could reach 6.5 million by December 2020. For comparison, 4.8 million Syrians left their country in 2015 and 5.5 million—or 25% of the population—fled between 2011 and 2019.
  • The international community has spent $605 million to support Venezuelan refugees and internally displaced people. This translates to $131 per Venezuelan refugee, far less than the $3,400 spent per Syrian refugee.
  • Approximately 2 million Venezuelans are living in other South American countries as immigrants without refugee status or asylum claims.
  • Most refugees exit through Paraguachon—a city on the border that has been described as chaotic and uncontrolled, with reports of smugglers exploiting forced migrants daily. Refugees with the direst needs are protected in the Maicao UNHCR camp, while many others go to squatter camps by the border.

The current refugee crisis in Venezuela is unique in that it is not a result of conventional war or conflict. Rather, it has been driven by worsening economic conditions. Since 2013, the Venezuelan economy has contracted by 65%, deterioration many believe was avoidable. In roughly the same period, the undernourishment rate has quadrupled and the U.N. estimates that approximately 300,000 people’s lives have been put at risk due to limited access to medical treatment. The country has also been plagued by water and electricity shortages, while violence has skyrocketed. These severe humanitarian impacts have led droves of Venezuelans to flee.

Role of Neighboring Countries

Venezuela’s neighboring countries—namely in Latin and South America as well as the Caribbean—have taken in the majority of these refugees. The Colombian government hosts the largest number, with over 1.6 million living there in 2019, making up 3% of Colombia’s total population. The country has launched over $230 million in credit lines for infrastructure and private investment in areas with high refugee density. Peru, Ecuador and Chile have also taken in refugees—with Peru taking in 860,000 and both Ecuador and Chile taking in more than 370,000 each. However, these three countries imposed visa restrictions on Venezuelans in 2019, leading to an increase in undocumented migration and more migrants fleeing to Colombia.

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