Why Venezuelans are Emigrating & the Struggles they Face


David Ortega Baglietto Description: BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 2017 - Venezuelan people protest in Barcelona against Venezuelan Politicians on April 15, 2017, in Saint James's Square, Barcelona, Spain.

By Megan Lee

With the Russo-Ukrainian war causing countries to boycott petroleum relations with Russia, the spotlight is now on Venezuela. With the new attention, the humanitarian and economic crisis of Venezuela has gained more media traction, but the unheard story is the rise in Venezuela’s emigration and the plights they face trying to reach the U.S. border.  The rocky start to current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s term left Venezuela in the dark as several diplomatic partners like the U.S. and Peru failed to recognize Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela and imposed sanctions that created a tense economic relationship, leaving Venezuela with a worsening economic crisis. 

Sanctions from the United States and its failure to recognize Maduro as a legitimate president has played a large role, causing Venezuelans to migrate. Before the sanctions, the United States under former President Trump along with Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and European countries like France and Germany declared Maduro an illegitimate president and named Juan Guaido as the interim president. With this attempt to overthrow Maduro, these countries ceased their financial relationships with Venezuela, including petroleum imports to the United States. The sanctions placed on Venezuela came in 2019 when President Trump employed them as a way to encourage Maduro to concede and give the presidency to Guiado. Under current President Biden, those sanctions have eased to receive oil imports in place of  Russian crude imports. These sanctions left a large impact on the Venezuelan economy as they had few allies to import petrol to leaving Venezuela, a petrol state heavily dependent on its oil to have economic success, without its majority income source. The freeze of Venezuelan assets in countries like the U.S. and the U.K. added to the already declining economy of Venezuela. Acknowledging that the United States and the countries that followed suit in sanctioning Venezuela have played a role in Venezuela’s declining economy, it is important when analyzing the factors that have caused an almost mass-exodus and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.  

Venezuelan migrants are escaping from their country because they are losing access to basic necessities such as food, clean water, and medicine. The political turmoil in Venezuela is distracting the government from providing the necessary resources to shield its citizens from the ramifications of its economic downfall. President Maduro is instead manipulating the government into forcing out the opposition party. He is also supporting human rights violations against those who denounce him, and abusing the land, causing irreparable damage to Venezuela’s natural resources. Over 7 million people have left Venezuela, and that number will increase. Most migrants are headed for the United States, but the journey there is not easy.

Before the renegotiation between Colombia and Venezuela, the border between the two countries was closed and tensions were high. Because the two countries share a border, a large number of Venezuelan migrants try to cross through or move to Colombia. But because of political tensions, Venezuelan migrants and Colombians have become victims of sex trafficking, gang violence, labor exploitation, and more. Venezuelan migrants are escaping from a country with increasingly worse economic tensions, so when escaping to new countries, they seek jobs to provide for their families. This puts the migrants in a vulnerable position to be exploited in numerous ways. The pre-existing dangers for migrants trying to cross borders without being detained are considerable. The problem has presented itself not only in Colombia but also in Brazil, another bordering country. Hospitals have become overwhelmed with Venezuelan migrants injured during their travels. Venezuelans have become a noticeable percentage of the homeless in its border countries. Governments are struggling to implement appropriate policies to protect migrants and their citizens from violence and economic catastrophe.

Going forward, the state of Venezuela’s economic status and its capacity to care for its citizens is unpredictable. Whether the ability of Venezuela to produce oil to make up for the loss from the Russo-Ukrainian war allows the economy to restabilize or the political tension once again is prioritized over the health and safety of Venezuelans, the movement must not stop. It is important to move past only highlighting the plight of Venezuelan migrants and begin working towards helping all Venezuelans survive. For Americans, our government is funding the Russo-Ukrainian war with an expanded military budget taking dollars that were once dedicated to aiding Venezuelan refugees through the failed Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan. That plan promised aid to both Venezuelan and Ukrainian refugees and their host countries. The aid that was promised to Venezuelan refugees should be returned to help alleviate the challenges Venezuelan migrants face, especially because of the large role the United States is playing in what is now both an economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. 

Megan Lee studies International Affairs and Criminal Justice with a minor in Spanish at Northeastern University and is an intern at MAPA.