As Venezuela sinks deeper into the political crisis, hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants continue to flee the country contributing to the largest population movement in the recent history of Latin America.
Many of them settle in the region, in countries like Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador, which have been generally welcoming of the Venezuelans and have shown hospitality and solidarity.
“In recent days, however, violent actions, physical and verbal attacks and threats against Venezuelan citizens in several countries in the region have marred this picture,” Eduardo Stein, Joint U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) – International Organization for Migration (IOM) Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, said in a release on Monday.
According to Stein, the acts of hatred and xenophobia have been isolated and unrepresentative, but “extremely worrying.”
In August, Venezuelan suspects were blamed after a local merchant was robbed and severely beaten in Pacaraima, Brazil, where an estimated 1,000 immigrants were living on the streets. After the incident, dozens of locals attacked the two main immigrant makeshift camps burning people’s belongings and forcing them to cross the border back into Venezuela.
And earlier this month, Ecuador has launched a crackdown on Venezuelan migrants after a pregnant Ecuadorian woman was killed by her boyfriend, a Venezuelan immigrant.
UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told The Globe Post that these incidents were some of the most serious ones, but noted that “Venezuelan refugees and migrants are often victims of racist abuse, insults and threats in social media in many countries.”
Recent attacks are not related to any increase in the number of arrivals of Venezuelans in recent days amid the worsening political situation in the country, Spindler said.
“We have been monitoring population flows at key border points and we have seen daily fluctuations but it is too early to say if there is a change in trends from last year, when an average of 5,000 Venezuelans were leaving their country every day,” he added.
The United Nations forecast in December that 5.3 million Venezuelans will have fled the country by the end of 2019, an exodus that amounts to “a humanitarian earthquake.”
UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi has said that the reasons for people fleeing varied “from pure hunger to violence and lack of security.”
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Some 3.3 million Venezuelans are currently living abroad, roughly 2.3 million of whom have fled the country’s political and economic crisis since 2015. In December, the U.N. appealed for $738 million (654 million euros) to help displaced Venezuelans as well as 16 countries currently hosting them.
Spindler said a more robust and immediate response from the international community was urgently needed if the regional hospitality and solidarity with Venezuelan refugees were to continue.
“We are seeing worrying examples of xenophobia against Venezuelans in many countries. In an effort to curb them and promote solidarity, we are doing a series of awareness campaigns with the support of governments, partners, media and host communities,” he said.
Racism, misogyny, and xenophobia must be firmly condemned, Stein underscored, noting that political and opinion leaders must appeal in their pronouncements to peace, justice, calm and restraint.
“It is essential that governments and societies respond with a clear and forceful message of rejection,” he said.
“The media and users of social networks, for their part, must report the facts in a responsible manner, without inciting xenophobic attitudes and actions, and must also condemn all physical or verbal attacks against refugees, migrants and other foreign persons, when they occur.”
With reporting from AFP