Amidst the Russo-Ukrainian War, foreign countries are devoting aid to help the citizens of Ukraine. With this allocation of funds and resources, other refugee crises are overlooked. Venezuela is notably one of these countries that still requires assistance during this time. Although the crisis has been stirring since 2014, there has been a sudden growth in the urgency of the problem. The number of migrants and refugees leaving Venezuela has resulted in the largest displacement crisis in the recent history of Latin America. Despite the massive number of people leaving the country, there is still a lack of assistance from organizations such as the United Nations or the European Union towards neighboring countries and Venezuela itself.
Overview of the War in Ukraine
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced civilians to flee to neighboring countries. As of mid-September, there have been nearly 12.7 million border crossings from Ukraine into neighboring countries with more still occurring. Organizations such as the Regional Refugee Response Plan, the UN, and other NGOs have stepped in to help by providing the necessary resources that host countries may need to house the influx of refugees.
The crisis in Ukraine has been deemed the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II. Some of the citizens leaving their homes are finding shelter within the country or in neighboring states. However, the amount of refugees continues to fluctuate as 2.5 million Ukrainians have returned home since the invasion. The overall increase in displacement has forced the European Union to implement new initiatives such as the Temporary Protection Directive. This allows Ukrainians to receive immediate temporary protection within the European Union for up to three years. They also have the automatic right to work and go to any of the 27 member nations.
The impact of warfare and war crimes has caused several other countries to participate in the assistance of Ukrainians. Nearly 6,000 citizens have been killed in the war, and as violence increases, more refugees seek asylum. With 15,000 pending asylum applications through the European Union, Ukrainians have a recognition rate of 97 percent. Nearly all of the people that are applying for asylum are granted hospitality in another European country. The majority of refugees are fleeing to neighboring countries; Poland is hosting the greatest number of migrants with nearly 6.1 million Ukrainians as of September 2022. Meanwhile, the city of Kyiv has a population that is about two-thirds of its pre-war level.
The Rise of the Venezuelan Crisis
The Venezuelan crisis is unique because it is not the result of warfare, but rather the domestic living conditions that make leaving so urgent. The crisis began in 2014 as a result of plummeting GDP and political chaos, rooted in the country’s massive investments in oil reserves. An economically depleting combination of lower oil prices, government overspending, US sanctions, economic mismanagement, and corruption all contributed to the economic downfall of the country. The fall in the GDP can be attributed to three compounding US sanctions against the Venezuelan oil industry, the Venezuelan gold mining industry, and the Central Bank of Venezuela. These sanctions severely limited Venezuela’s ability to access US currency and participate in international transactions. As these sanctions continue, about 32 million citizens fell into poverty to the point where they could no longer afford food.
In the political realm, there were massive protests amidst the 2018 election in hopes to remove President Nicolas Maduro from power. The opposing party had formulated a way to remove Maduro that involved guarantees for military support, a dignified exit for the current president, and the installment of an interim president from their party. Part of the plan included the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, calling for a military uprising which ultimately failed. Once the plan failed, President Maduro stripped power from the opposition-held parliament which started leading the democratic state down a dangerous road towards an authoritarian committee. This resulted in the detainment and arrest of those opposed to Maduro’s power grab. Those who attempted to go against the government were either barred or forced into hiding, which stirred dissent among citizens who were not in favor of the president, to begin with.
The increase in poverty and political turmoil has resulted in an increase in violence and a decrease of individual security. Citizens lack access to resources such as food, medicine, and other essential services. In addition, there are an immense amount of human rights violations carried out by the government and irreversible damages to the natural resources that once helped the Venezuelan economy.
The Current Venezuelan Crisis
With the country in an economic and political downward spiral, most residents are trying their best to escape. In addition to all of the problems prior to the pandemic, COVID-19 has made it more difficult to leave. About 151,000 migrants had to return home once the pandemic began. Since the coronavirus has quieted down over the past year, Venezuelans are fleeing the country once again. Many leave for another country in the Americas, resulting in seventeen different host countries for 80 percent of the Venezuelan migrant population. Citizens are also seeking asylum throughout the EU, but only six percent of over 30,000 pending cases have been recognized.
This mass exodus has altered the populations of other Latin American countries. Colombia is currently hosting 2.5 million Venezuelans and Peru follows with 1.5 million. Not only have the population demographics changed, but the average income for Venezuela’s population is the very benchmark for extreme poverty. 77 percent of the Venezuelans that are not able to flee the country live in this poverty level, which is the highest rate in Latin America. With the struggle for Latin American economies to stay afloat, they are now urgently in need of economic assistance from foreign countries. The refugee aid provided to Venezuelans helps ensure that migrants can obtain jobs and proper medical assistance.
Neighboring Countries Struggle to House Venezuelans
With some of the political turmoil and economic issues in other Latin American countries, the rapid increase in Venezuelan refugees has left some countries incapable of sustaining new population levels. In Brazil, there has been a 1,000 percent increase in emergency calls to the police due to the migrants inundating hospitals and the residents. Venezuelans are taking up nearly half of the hospital space, leaving citizens of Brazil puzzled about how to restore hospitals to a manageable capacity instead of constant overflow. Thousands of migrants line the streets and are willing to work for a fraction of the city dwellers while newly risen refugee camps spark fear of long-term ghettos. This trend has been common in not only Brazil, but also in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Incapable of keeping up with the number of refugees, countries such as Peru and Ecuador are making it increasingly difficult for Venezuelans to enter their borders. They have started requiring passports, not just national ID cards, and fabricating a newly impenetrable border. Other countries are struggling to find ways to provide shelter, education, and food to migrants. Latin American countries simply have fewer resources to handle the migrants that are fleeing to their country in comparison to the European nations housing Ukrainian refugees. Assistance from the United States, European countries, and other financially capable nations is essential to the survival of displaced Venezuelans.
Relocation of Aid
Although the United States has been the top international donor for Venezuela throughout the years, the United States has allocated more money to Ukraine over the past year. The United States has assisted the Venezuelan crisis with almost US$2.3 billion over the past five years, and an additional US$356 million since the Ukrainian War began. The United States gave Ukraine US$2.8 billion in military assistance and roughly another US$10 billion to aid the families and refugees of the nation. The US Congress has continued to fund the crisis in Ukraine while neglecting the issues of Venezuela. However, it is not only the United States that has completely shifted focus.
The Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan has failed to allocate the proposed amount of aid to both Venezuela and Ukraine. However, the promises made to Venezuela are left unfulfilled while Ukraine is provided with a substantial amount of funding. The regional migrant response plan for Venezuela was promised to be US$1.79 billion, but less than 15 percent of that has been fully funded as of early September. On the contrary, Ukraine was promised US$1.85 billion through its regional response plan and the country received over 60 percent of that funding by late August.
The European Union has also mobilized with full force to aid those in Ukraine. The partnership of about 30 countries has worked together to provide about 28 million euros worth of shelter items and energy equipment to Ukrainian communities. The European Commission has also allocated about 348 million euros for humanitarian aid programs to help those still living in Ukraine. However, over the past four years, aid towards Venezuela has steadily decreased. Venezuela has only received five million euros from the European Union since 2019. This has been a substantial decline since 20 million euros in 2018. This makes the Venezuelan crisis one of the most underfunded global emergencies.
United States Relationship with Russia - How it Ties In
The protection of the Ukrainian territory is extremely important to the United States and the oil reserves in Venezuela also provide some incentives for good relations. The United States depicts itself as a middle man of the two crises in the sense that Ukranian protection is important, but Venezuelan relations are also important. With Venezuela housing one of the largest oil reserves and maintaining the role of Russia’s closest partner in the region, the United States has been hesitant to allocate resources rather than sanctions towards Venezuela.
President Maduro of Venezuela expressed full support for the invasion of Ukraine. Venezuela’s allies are among some of the most powerful countries that the United States consistently has tension with, which may account for the increased sanctions against the Venezuelan state. Russia has been one of the few countries that still continues to support Venezuela despite the mass amounts of economic and financial sanctions the United States has placed on the country.
With these connections considered, it would make sense for the EU and the United States to pull funding from the Venezuelan crisis. Although this may be the right political move for the EU and the United States, the refugees in Venezuela still need assistance and should not be at fault for their leader’s decisions; after all, he is the reason the majority of the population is trying to leave. Even if these nations choose to induce sanctions and decrease their aid towards the Venezuelan crisis for political reasons, they could at least allocate more aid towards the Latin American countries that are housing and assisting the Venezuelan refugees.
The United States is funneling more resources and attention towards the Ukrainian crisis because of the dangers that Russia presents. The United States knows that Russia is more powerful than Venezuela in the aspect of war, even though Russia has minimal capacity to launch force in the Western Hemisphere. The lingering threat of war with Russia has diverted the United States towards helping Ukraine and away from trying to help Venezuela, in the sense that helping Ukraine will ultimately give the United States the upper hand in the power struggle between Russia and the United States.
United States and Venezuela Relations
As of right now the country providing the most assistance to Venezuela is the United States. There has been some talk of cooperation between the two countries to work towards a less tense relationship. Initially, the conflict increased when Venezuela stood by Russia during the Ukrainian invasion. However, the US Government has made some effort towards cooperation with Venezuela which may help relieve the political turmoil and economic stagnation that is inducing the crisis.
Moving forward, the best way to remedy the problem has to start at the source. The United States could help by giving money towards the nations that are housing all of the Venezuelan refugees, which would help those who were able to escape. However, for a more long-term solution, the United States should consider relieving some of the economic sanctions on the country. Hopefully, through a cooperative effort, the United States and the Venezuelan people could benefit by pushing Maduro more towards the implementation of fair and free elections. If the United States offered the possibility of easing economic sanctions, then there may be more cooperation among the current Venezuelan government.
In March 2022, the United States sent some officials to discuss how that influences international relations. Since the Russo-Ukrainian War began, the United States sent senior officials to Venezuela which resulted in the release of two US prisoners. This has sparked the potential for the countries to work towards a more open line of communication instead of the unproductive framework they had been practicing for the last 30 years.
The possibility of Venezuela bettering relations with the United States may help some internal infrastructure of the nation, but may not ultimately help the current refugee crisis. It is important to note that the allyship with Russia may be what is deterring the UN and the EU from providing aid to Venezuelan refugees. Nonetheless, Venezuelan refugees deserve some more financial assistance from world organizations even in the midst of the Russo-Ukrainian War.