A new United Nations estimate has found that the number of people who have fled Venezuela in the country’s economic collapse and political chaos since 2015 has reached 3 million people — marking an exodus comparable to the ones seen in war-ravaged countries like Syria and Afghanistan.
The estimate was compiled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration. The agencies say it includes refugees and migrants and was estimated using data from national migration authorities in the region.
The scale is comparable to some of the world’s most severe refugee crises in recent years. According to estimates from UNHCR, there were 6.3 million refugees from Syria at the end of 2017, which was the world’s worst refugee crisis, followed by 2.6 million from Afghanistan and 2.4 million from South Sudan, another country recently afflicted by war.
William Spindler, a spokesman for UNHCR, said that while most Venezuelans were not fleeing the armed conflict seen in Syria or Afghanistan, they could be considered refugees under the Cartagena Declaration, a nonbinding agreement signed by 14 Latin American countries in 1984.
“Venezuelans are leaving their country for a combination of reasons, including insecurity and violence, lack of access to food, medicine and essential services, as well as loss of income and lack of effective national protection systems,” he said.
“UNHCR believes that these circumstances fall under the spirit of the Cartagena Declaration that extends the refugee definition to include ‘persons who have fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances,’ ” he said.
The refugees and migrants from Venezuela have ended up spread unevenly throughout the region, according to the estimate. Venezuela’s neighbor, Colombia, hosted more than 1 million. Peru had more than half a million, Ecuador more than 220,000, Argentina 130,000, Chile more than 100,000 and Brazil 85,000. Countries in Central America and the Caribbean are also hosting large numbers of Venezuelans, the report estimated.
At least some have made their way to the United States. Data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services showed a surge of 88 percent in the number of Venezuelans applying for asylum in 2017, with the number totaling 27,629 by the end of the year.