Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: REUTERS/MIRAFLORES PALACE/HANDOUT
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: REUTERS/MIRAFLORES PALACE/HANDOUT

Geneva — The exodus of Venezuelans is on track to reach five-million people, as pressure grows on neighbouring countries to provide them with long-term support, UN and EU officials said on Wednesday.

About 4.5-million refugees and migrants have fled Venezuela since 2015, according to official figures, but more are using illegal crossing points because they lack identity papers, said Eduardo Stein, joint special representative of the UN refugee and migration agencies.

The crisis has worsened since the US imposed sanctions, including on the pivotal oil industry, in an effort to oust leftist President Nicolas Maduro in favour of opposition leader Juan Guaido. Dozens of nations recognise Guaido as interim president, saying Maduro rigged a 2018 election.

Roughly 5,000 people leave Venezuela daily, although the number fluctuates as more states require visas, Stein said.

“The experience of other crises in the world shows us that those who would want to go back to Venezuela if the crisis in political terms were to be solved today, it will take a good two years or maybe even more,” Stein told a news conference.

A UN regional humanitarian response plan of $739m for 2019 is expected to nearly double for 2020, he added.

The initially welcoming attitude to Venezuelans around South America has soured amid accusations they bring crime, crowd the job market, and strain social services.

The UN and EU are hosting a meeting from October 28-29 in Brussels to raise awareness of needs. Donors and officials from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank are due to attend, but no Venezuelan representatives.

“This is the most severe and fastest-growing refugee migrant crisis in Latin American history, at least recent history,” said Walter Stevens, EU ambassador to the UN in Geneva. “There are estimates also that it could further increase if the situation does not change, quickly reaching five-million.”

Colombia is the top destination for Venezuelan migrants fleeing the long-running crisis, which has caused widespread shortages of food and medicine. About 1.4-million Venezuelans live in Colombia.

The flow is overwhelming the financial and administrative capacities of host countries to provide education and health services, Stein said.

“Nine receiving countries have agreed to accept expired [Venezuelan] passports as valid documents. And so with an expired passport you can get a temporary permit sometimes for two years,” he said.

Reuters