Yet Another Diaspora. This Time on Our Own Doorstep (UPDATE)
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) has just published the latest annual “Global Trends – Forced Displacement” report for 2018 and, as feared (below), the global population of forcibly displaced increased by 2.3 million people in the past year.
Also as expected, the huge number of people fleeing Venezuela was a significant factor in the increase, with some 3.4 million outside the country by the end of 2018.
If there is a silver lining to this humanitarian crisis, it could be the fact that, during 2018, 2.9 million displaced people returned to their areas or countries of origin.
But don’t clap yet, “Returns have not kept pace with the rate of new displacements,” the report says.
As a consequence of the Iraq war, the world witnessed “the largest diaspora in the Middle East since 1948.”
It would not be the last one.
Two years ago, in an article dealing with “the global population of displaced people,” The New York Times reported that the new total of 65.6 million people forcibly displaced* from their homes was the highest in all of history. Subsequently, the Times clarified that this figure was the highest “since World War II, not the highest in all of history.”
While I have no idea how many people have been displaced from their homes due to war, violence and persecution in all of history, if humanity continues on its present course it is conceivably that, one day, this “modern civilization” may make the original Times statement become tragic reality.
The 2018 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) annual “Global Trends” report found that in just one more year, 2017, nearly another three million displaced people had been added to the rolls of infamy, bringing the cumulative total of displaced people to 68.5 million. This number was fueled in large part by crises in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar, according to the UNHCR.
While the 2019 report has not yet been released, it is likely that, once again, a few more million displaced persons will have been added.
Since the end of 2017, the world has witnessed yet another diaspora, this time taking place on our own doorstep, as Venezuela’s social, political, economic and humanitarian institutions and safeguards collapsed under the regime of President Nicolás Maduro, resulting in the worst migratory crisis in our hemisphere’s recent history.
Already in February of this year, the UNHCR reported that, as of 2018, the number of Venezuelans who had fled their country because of poverty, hunger, violence, and persecution was 3.4 million and warned of “massive humanitarian implications.”
Even more alarming, the Brookings Institution, recently estimated that, based on oil production and other financial factors, “the total number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees around the world could reach 8.2 million.” That is an additional five million, surpassing the Syrian refugee crisis.
But where are these unfortunate people going?
I became especially interested in this when I read an article describing how thousands of Venezolanos “rushed to Peru’s northern border…in hopes of entering the Andean country before it imposes tough immigration requirements…”
In order to reach Perú these refugees have to first cross the lengths of Colombia and Ecuador – a road distance of approximately 1,700 miles – and one must keep in mind that such a distance is traveled by foot, hitchhiked or, at best, in or on on top of overcrowded buses, trucks or trains.
To put this in perspective, the “by foot” distance from the Guatemala border to McAllen, Texas — a distance presently traversed by thousands of Central American migrants — is about 1,000 miles. To the New Mexico border, it is about 1,700 miles.
In the same article, I learned that that Venezuelan refugees travel even farther than just to Perú .
UNHCR reports that Chile hosts almost 300,000 refugees, Argentina 130,000 — add at least another 1,000 tortuous miles just to reach the borders of these two countries. They also travel to Mexico and other Central American countries and as far as the United States, Canada and Spain.
As of January 2019, approximately 290,000 Venezolanos had come to the United States according to the UNHCR.
The Trump administration has been the toughest to condemn and impose severe sanctions on the Maduro regime and was the first to recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president. However, when it comes to providing asylum or adequate legal protection to the tens of thousands of Venezolanos displaced by violence, persecution, corruption and scarcity of food and basic services, it has had a change of mind, and principles.
The Los Angeles Times claims that about 50% of Venezuelan asylum claims are denied, on average, placing those denied asylum at risk of deportation back to Venezuela.
The administration is even “resisting” bipartisan efforts to grant Temporary Protection Status (TPS) to Venezuelans in the US and has even “sought to dismantle the program as part of [its] wider efforts to reduce immigration,” according to the Times.
The Venezuelan American National Bar Association estimates that there are about 150,000 Venezuelan nationals in the US who would qualify for TPS, a designation that would provide deportation protection, legal status and work permits.
In fact, the Trump administration has stepped up deportations of Venezuelans. According to the American Prospect, “the United States has deported more Venezuelans in the past few months than it’s resettled Venezuelan refugees in years.”
If the United States of America, with its plentiful resources and historical tradition of accepting “your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” can or will no longer take in these wretched people, is it any surprise that other countries are facing similar “dilemmas” and that these unfortunate men,women and children have to trek wider and farther to find refuge?
*Forcibly displaced persons include internally and externally displaced persons, asylum seekers and stateless persons.