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 June 2019, an estimated 4.3 million Venezuelan’s have left the country since 2015.
Venezuelans, particularly those traveling alone, experience a number of vulnerabilities along the migratory route. These include trafficking, discrimination, exploitation by would-be employers and a lack of access to basic services. According to a recent study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in which more than 4,000 Venezuelan migrants were surveyed, 21 percent of respondents reported being victims of labour exploitation, 14 percent reported having worked without pay, 29 percent reported experiencing discrimination and 2 percent reported having been forced into labour. Moreover, many Venezuelans encounter a variety of health risks along the migratory route, and several factors contribute to limited access to basic health services. Physical, cultural and social limitations can prevent migrant people living with HIV, for example, from accessing health services.
While those leaving Venezuela have spread throughout South and Central America and the Caribbean, there have also been reports of migrants from Central Africa, Cuba and Haiti entering Colombia and heading north through Panama in an effort to reach North America. The trek is a dangerous one, particularly in the Darién gap – a region of largely undeveloped jungle on the border between Colombia and Panama with a significant presence of drug traffickers, along with numerous natural hazards.
In response to the situation, the IFRC’s Americas Regional Office (ARO) has issued three Emergency Appeal operations – one in Colombia, one in Venezuela and another involving a coordinated response in nine countries affected by the migration flows in the region. With budgets of nearly 5 million and 9 million Swiss Francs (CHF) respectively, each operation began in 2018 and the latter is planned to extend into 2020.
Migration flows in the Americas have changed significantly in recent weeks, due in large part to certain changes in migration and border patrol policies. Moreover, perilous migratory routes in Central America and in the Caribbean have led to heightened vulnerability among migrant populations and a marked increase in migrant deaths in the region compared to recent years.