Article originally appeared in the Washington Examiner (here)
As Russia’s geopolitical display of war-power in one the world’s most impoverished nations continues, the exodus of millions of Venezuelans leaving their home country in search of food, medical attention, safety, livelihood and, where available, humanity, has reached global proportions. From Canada to Australia, from Spain to Argentina, from Lebanon to Sweden, Venezuelans are not only emigrating in large numbers but nowadays claiming asylum in 41 countries.
At present, Venezuelans top the list of foreign nationals claiming asylum protection in United States, Spain, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Aruba, and Curaçao. They are the second largest claimant group in Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
Last month, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR and the International Organization of Migration IOM estimated the number of Venezuelans fleeing their country at 3 million. The global extent of the Venezuelan exodus is further confirmed by an unprecedented increase in the number of asylum applications filed by Venezuelans around the world. As it turns out, since the beginning of Venezuela’s economic crisis in 2015 and until 2017, the number of asylum applications lodged by Venezuelans increased exponentially: more than 7000 percent in Mexico; 2500 percent in Brazil; 1700 percent in Spain; 800 percent in the EU; 800 percent in Chile; 700 percent in Costa Rica; and nearly 500 percent in United States.
Venezuelans are fleeing their country in record numbers. Data collected in the first-three quarters of 2018 suggest that the Venezuelan refugee crisis will not only continue but increasedramatically in 2019. Just in the first half of 2018, 547,000 Venezuelans entered Ecuador, 350,000entered Peru, and 147,000 entered Chile. In June and July respectively, Venezuelans filed 2,025asylum applications in United States and 9,610 in Brazil, and this as almost 1,500-asylum-applications are pending in Canada.
Considering the number of Venezuelans that already left the country, the 1.37-million percent inflation-rate projected by IMF by the end of this year, and the gradual starvation of Venezuela’s population, the Venezuelan refugee crisis is likely to surpass the number of forced migrants produced by the Syrian conflict.
And as in the case of Syria, the world was not prepared for the Venezuelan crisis and seems gradually less willing to take its refugees. As a result, Venezuelans are increasingly caught between the uncivilized actions of their government and the uncivilized, xenophobic behavior of the civilized world.
Since recurrent national-security concerns (e.g., terrorism, gang-membership, criminal-propensity) cannot be easily constructed here to justify the rejection, exclusion, and eventual deportation of Venezuelan refugees, some host countries have chosen instead to invoke procedural grounds to deny asylum claims filed by Venezuelans. For instance, in 2017, despite the 1,800-asylum-applications lodged by Venezuelans every month in Spain, the government granted only 15 claims while denying more than 1,500, pleading lack of personnel to process such claims.
Moreover, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, and Chile are shifting their immigration policies to stop the Venezuelan exodus by introducing new visa or document requirements (e.g., passports, ID national-cards) both to file asylum claims and enter the country — which policies, essentially, preclude most Venezuelans from even leaving their country.
Citing unemployment, crime-propensity, or even asylum-claimants’ poverty, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, and Ecuador adopted restrictions aimed at deterring Venezuelans from entering these countries. In due course, however, such measures were struck down by the judiciary in each country.
Still, Canada — a country with a comprehensive refugee system — has denied refugee protection based on the “ political and economic instability” in Venezuela. This is a decisive factor preventing Venezuelans from qualifying for temporary refugee-protection in Canada. In fact, Canada is not alone in this position. Australia and New Zealand are invoking “ volatile situation” and “ economic instability” doctrines to deny asylum petitions filed by Venezuelans.
Although the claimant country’s situation is deemed relevant to ascertain factual elements concerning the nature-and-existence of conflict as well as the type-and-level of persecution, international refugee law —which all these countries have recognized— does not acknowledge the economic situation of refugees, their “propensity” to commit a crime, the economic stress their reception may produce to host-countries, or the political-economic instability of the claimant’s country as defining legal grounds to determine the objective (persecution-conflict) and subjective (well-founded fear) elements of their asylum claims. This applies particularly when the alternative (deportation) may place such claimants at greater risk of starvation or of maltreatment such as torture.
In the end, there are many reasons a country nowadays may invoke to avoid protecting Venezuela’s refugees. There is, however, a more powerful reason to protect them, to which both human rights and refugee law owe their very existence: humanity.