Over 50 percent of Venezuelan migrant families surveyed feared that a family member was at risk of robbery, physical assault, intimidation or threats during their journey or while seeking asylum, a report released Friday by the United Nations Refugee Agency found.
UNHCR reports that refugees face higher risks based on their age, gender or health, or those involved in negative coping mechanisms such as survival sex, begging, and child labor.
Around 14 percent of those interviewed said that they have had to beg to cover the expenses of their journey, while another two percent said they have resorted to prostitution out of extreme need.
“The risks connected with survival sex and exploitation are extremely high for the Venezuelan population,” stated the report.
The main factors that lead people to participate in these types of work were unstable economic situations of families and single women prior to leaving Venezuela and their inability to cover the cost of the trip, according to the report.
Additionally, the limited employment opportunities in countries receiving migrants and the temporary residence permits issued to Venezuelans increase the likelihood that someone turns to an unsafe occupation.
Venezuela’s neighboring countries have struggled with the sudden spike in refugee numbers, which jumped from 700,000 in 2015 to over four million by June 2019. The countries which have seen the highest volume of immigration from Venezuela are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and the southern Caribbean islands, according to the report.
One of the main drivers for migration from Venezuela has been a lethal military crackdown from the government of Nicolas Maduro. In 2018, military forces killed 5,287 people, claiming they “resisted authority” with other sources saying this number could be much higher, a different report from the U.N’s OHCHR found.
Additionally, the severe economic conditions in Venezuela, which has seen inflation skyrocket, has driven people out of the country. Because of this Venezuelans have been unable to fulfill their basic needs such as food and health, which has forced them to flee to neighboring countries.
While many experts attribute the country’s economic crisis to the government’s mismanagement and corruption, a recent report from economists at Columbia University and the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the U.S. sanctions have severely exacerbated humanitarian conditions and have caused an estimated 40,000 deaths.
However, Venezuelan refugees who were surveyed said they were still struggling to fulfill their basic needs in the countries they seek refuge due to lack of employment opportunities and unsafe working environments.
“66 percent of those interviewed said they were either unemployed or working informally,” the report said. “In addition, responses pointed to some 100 incidents when people were obliged to work against their will or in such conditions that their situation is considered of labor exploitation.”
Also, the struggle for migrants to obtain legal authorization to remain in the countries they sought refuge has contributed to people turning to begging, sex work, and underage work.
“Medium and longer-term solutions are not yet fully in place everywhere, leaving many at risk of irregular stay when their temporary permits expire,” stated the report.
Many governments in the region have made considerable efforts to try and facilitate the influx of migrants. On July 4-5, 14 Latin American and Carribean countries along with United Nations agencies, regional organizations, development banks, and civilian representatives met at the IV International Technical Meeting of the Quito Process to adopt The Roadmap of the Buenos Aires Chapter to better equip countries struggling with the increase of Venezuelan migrants.
By agreeing to the plan, governments have signed on to strengthen cooperation, communication, and coordination between migrant-receiving countries.
Despite the efforts from Latin American and Carribean governments to aid in the resettlement of migrants, the lack of knowledge around refugee rights within the migrant community makes this difficult.
“Fifteen percent of those interviewed had applied for asylum, with a further 26 percent saying they planned to do so,” stated the report. “Of those not intending to apply, the majority were unaware of existing procedures and entitlements, with some wrongly believing that applying for asylum would prevent them from ever returning home.”
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