A. Situation analysis
Description of the disaster
In early 2015, the Americas region began to experience a surge in migration flows due in large part to the rise of people emigrating from Venezuela in response to the country’s faltering economy. This swell in migration continued in the years following, as the number of Venezuelans living in Latin American countries rose from an estimated 700,000 in 2015 to over 3 million by late 2018. As of December 2019, there are 4.8 million Venezuelan migrants in the world, with 3.9 million in Latin America and the Caribbean alone. This is the largest migration from a single country in the region in recent history. As the numbers continue to rise, so do the needs of migrants and host communities.
Below is an overview of the entry conditions for Venezuelans in some of the countries involved in the EA.
Venezuelan population: 863,600
Immigration restrictions: Passport and visa for entry. Only pregnant women and children under the age of five have access to free public healthcare.
Peru hosts the second largest population of migrants from Venezuela worldwide, after Colombia. A poll by the Institute of Peru in June 2019 found that 73 percent of Peruvians are opposed to Venezuelan immigration. Peru is currently experiencing an intense rise in xenophobia, stoked by the media blaming Venezuelans for a rising crime rate. But government data tells a different story: in 2018, less than one percent of crimes in Peru were committed by Venezuelans, and the crime rate among all immigrants is actually falling.
Venezuelan population: 371,200
Immigration restrictions: Passport and visa for entry. Right to work programme is available to those who qualify, but during the first year, income is taxed at 35 percent. All children have access to the education system, regardless of migratory status. Healthcare coverage depends on insurance status – most Venezuelans are not enrolled in any plan.
As is the case in much of Latin America, integration of Venezuelans in Chile remains a challenge and officials fear existing tensions may increase during elections scheduled to take place in October 2020. Civil unrest has also made migrants more vulnerable as businesses cut back on costs. A shrinking economy means less employers are hiring, and transportation infrastructure has been damaged. Government and regional groups blaming Venezuelan ‘agitators’ for ongoing violent protests has recently increased xenophobia as well.
Venezuelan population: 385,000
Immigration Restrictions: Passport, a visa and criminal background check. Access to education for all people is guaranteed without distinction.
Medical services provided to refugees and migrants from Venezuela have increased steadily since 2015, though funding for these programmes is strained, leading to long waiting times. The right to work is difficult to achieve for new arrivals, the UN reports that 88.1 percent of the Venezuelan population currently work informally for less than the minimum wage.
Venezuelan population: 224,100
Immigration restrictions: Brazil maintains an open border with Venezuela. The government has coordinated a strong response to the crisis. Migrants are granted the legal right to work immediately, despite a nearly 25 percent unemployment rate.
Though a less popular destination for those fleeing due to language differences and geographical barriers, Brazil finds itself strained by the influx of migration. Most Venezuelans entering the country do so through an official port of entry near the border town of Pacaraima, which is cut off from the rest of Brazil by dense jungle and rainforests.
In addition to the unprecedented number of migrants from Venezuela settling throughout the region, some countries in the Americas receive significant numbers of extra-regional migrants from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, South American countries saw a marked increase in extra-regional migrants due to increasingly restrictive policies in traditional destination countries, along with visa liberalization in some South American nations. Some of these migrants have settled permanently in the region, but many others choose to travel north, crossing from Colombia into Panama through the Darien Gap on their way to North America. In 2019, the Panamanian government registered a total of 22,394 people crossing the border into Panama. According to the latest Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) report from IOM, the situation of needs is critical, and projections shows that the number of migrants entering Darien in the coming months is likely to increase. Missions conducted by IFRC staff and the Panama Red Cross Society in Darien in recent months substantiate this assessment.
Among the various needs on the ground, those relating to Protection, Gender and Inclusion stand out. Conditions of insecurity, a lack of community ties in host countries, fear of repercussions for being irregular migrants and a need to improve protection systems, are negatively affecting the conditions of the migrant population. According to different humanitarian organizations, and cohesively with the internal IFRC Protection Rapid Assessments made in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Argentina, there are several factors that put migrants in particular risks against their integrity, dignity and safety. These factors include cultural, social and economic barriers, limited access to documentation, violent conditions in host or transit countries and institutional gaps that limit access to basic and specialized services. When these factors collide some of the protections risks the migrants are exposed to include gender-based violence, human trafficking, smuggling, exploitation, and other forms of violence based on age, gender identity, sexual orientation -especially amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBTQ) migrant communities-, disability, ethnicity and/or nationality. Extra-regional migrants may experience even more acute vulnerabilities compared to regional migrants due to challenges with accessing regular migration status (and subsequently protected work), along with exaggerated language and cultural barriers and an absence of consular representation for certain nationalities.
Using an intersectional approach, certain trends have been identified in terms of the most-at-risk populations and the risks they are prone to face. Some humanitarian agencies suggest that women/girls and men/boys generally face similar problems, but there are substantial differences in the risks or vulnerabilities one might experience based on his or her gender. In general, gender-based violence is a higher risk for women and girls. According to UNHCR, the risks connected with survival sex and sexual exploitation are extremely high for the Venezuelan population of young girls and women and the contributing factors include: I) a precarious economic situation for families or single women prior to departure, II) an inability to cover the costs of the trip, III) limited availability of formal employment, IV) the temporary nature of residence permits issued to Venezuelans and V) the stigma associated with Venezuelan women and girls (fed by gender stereotypes) and people with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity. Likewise, boys and men face protection risks associated with their gender, such as labour exploitation, forced recruitment (in countries with a presence of non-state armed groups), mining and being engaged in illegal activities such as selling drugs. During IFRC’s Rapid Assessments informants reported boys represent higher levels of unaccompanied and separated children, while there are informal reports of unaccompanied women and girls being under-represented because they were more likely to be trafficked, including for sexual purposes, and because of the under-ground nature of this trafficking it was hard to account for the real numbers of women and girls who are alone.
A series of changes to visa requirements in the region last year and this year have demonstrated the impact that such government-level policy decisions can have on migrant communities and host communities. More restrictive or burdensome visa requirements for Venezuelans in Ecuador and Peru, for example, led to temporary but significant increases in the number of migrants crossing through border points in those countries. With the announcement of new requirements, the daily numbers of Venezuelans registered leaving a country for another destination with more lenient policies increased by thousands of people in some cases. Tightened visa requirements may also lead to increased irregular migration, as migrants choose to circumvent established border points, often without proper documentation, in order to avoid the lengthy and expensive naturalization processes that would otherwise be required of them.
Information and communication needs are considerable across the region. According to recent assessments, only one out of two people feel they are informed about their rights and available assistance. In addition, rumours and misinformation are widespread across the migrant population. While migrants are often digitally savvy, many experience difficulties in accessing connectivity services, especially while in transit. About 30% of migrants have not had access to humanitarian aid due to a lack of information about where to find and how to communicate with humanitarian organizations responding to the population movement in the region.