More than 6 million Venezuelans have fled their country amid deteriorating conditions, matching Ukraine in the number of displaced people and surpassing Syria, according to the United Nations.
The refugee crisis in Venezuela is striking because there is not a war in the country like Ukraine, where ongoing conflict has pushed people out of the country.
There are about 6.8 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants spread around the world, according to the United Nations refugee agency—similar to the 6.8 million refugees from Ukraine. There are some 6.6 million refugees from Syria.
“The United Nations confirmed that the number of displaced Venezuelans has reached 6.8 million people—tying with Ukraine for the largest refugee and migrant crisis worldwide, and surpassing Syria for the first time ever,” said Refugees International Senior Advocate for Latin America Rachel Schmidtke in a statement.
But “although the number of Venezuelans and Ukrainians forced from their homes is now roughly the same, the international response is not,” Schmidtke added.
“This year, donors have only funded 13 percent of the humanitarian response plan for Venezuelans—while the Ukraine response plan has received almost five times the amount of support,” she said.
Deteriorating economic conditions, food shortages and limited access to health care are increasingly pushing Venezuelans to leave, and a growing Venezuelan community in the United States is also a draw, Doris Meissner, who directs US immigration policy work at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington, previously told CNN.
In July, US Border Patrol apprehended 17,603 Venezuelan migrants at the US-Mexico border, marking an increase from June, according to the latest available agency data. Venezuelans have also been arriving to Washington DC and New York City on buses contracted by the state of Texas. They are often seeking political asylum.
Authorities can turn back migrants under a Trump-era pandemic rule known as Title 42, but it doesn’t apply to everyone. The public health authority allows border officials to swiftly expel migrants to Mexico, but there are limits on which nationalities can be turned back.
That, coupled with frosty relations with countries like Venezuela, keeps the US from removing certain people, meaning they might be released while going through immigration proceedings.
The flow of people north presents a challenge for US President Joe Biden, making it a top issue discussed between him and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Administration officials have been monitoring the increased movement of migrants in the region for months. Many migrants who are journeying north worked informal jobs before the Covid-19 pandemic and were especially vulnerable to falling into extreme poverty as economies tightened, while others are fleeing violence and political instability.
Migrants often pass through a perilous jungle, known as the Darien Gap, which spans Panama’s and Colombia’s borders, in their journey to the US.
A Venezuelan family who spoke with CNN after arriving in Washington on Wednesday called the journey through the Darién Gap treacherous, but said they fled to the United States for safety and work.