More global aid urgently needed as pandemic and Venezuelan exodus compound suffering

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Migrantes venezolanos reparan bicicletas en Quito, Ecuador.
Venezuelan migrants repair bicycles in Quito, Ecuador. Photo: Paul Salazar/World Bank 

Venezuela has been hurting for too long. The suffering of millions of Venezuelans forced to leave their country is among the most tragic events in recent decades in Latin America. Only the Syrian refugee crisis was larger than the Venezuelan exodus. Given that the displaced Venezuelan population is enormously vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic, we face an alarming situation that calls for stepping up efforts to mobilize international aid. 

Over the past year, Latin America has suffered the impact of the pandemic in both health and economic terms more than any other region . Proportionally-speaking, COVID-19 killed more people there than anywhere else – with just 8 % of the world’s population, the region accounted for 28.8 % of total global deaths. Measures to contain its spread erased more than a decade of progress in poverty reduction. For Venezuelans in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, the main recipient countries of the more than 5.5 million migrants, this represented an additional blow.

How so? Because Venezuelans who migrated have less access to healthcare services and are therefore more exposed to the virus. And since many of them depend on informal jobs, their income was greatly diminished by the pandemic. They also face more obstacles than other groups for recovering economically and are more likely to fall into extreme poverty.

In Colombia, for example, just 45 % of Venezuelans have a formal job because of their often-irregular immigration status. Their situation has worsened with the decline in employment. In Peru, two months after the quarantine began, 45 % of households had lost their main source of income. Two months later, nearly 64 % of households in the bottom three income quintiles were experiencing even worse economic conditions.

Displaced Venezuelans are certainly in a difficult situation. However, it could become even worse in the medium term once the restrictions imposed by the pandemic are lifted and the flow of refugees resumes, as is likely to happen.

But the reality could be very different. In addition to humanitarian considerations, it is important to recognize that migrants have much to contribute if they are given the opportunity to work and to integrate into their new environment. Effective integration could have extremely positive effects on host countries and help accelerate their economic recovery. Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, among others, could benefit enormously.

According to World Bank estimates, for example, if Venezuelans were fully integrated into the labor market in Peru, the country could produce an additional US$ 3.2 billion annually , equivalent to a third of the annual education budget. Moreover, they would stimulate consumption due to the increased demand for goods and services and would increase tax revenue. The same thing would occur in Colombia and Ecuador.

From this perspective, then, integrating and assisting migrant and refugee families are not only necessary humanitarian responses, but also beneficial for everyone. This is especially true at a time when recipient countries cannot afford to miss out on an opportunity to strengthen their economies. We need to focus on these facts, particularly at a time when support for receiving and providing assistance to Venezuelan migrants is waning in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.

Colombia adopted a series of positive integration policies, including the recent mass legalization of migrants through a new Temporary Protection Statute, as well as providing access to COVID-19 vaccines. More measures like these are necessary, but in addition to political will, they require funding.

Until now, international support to the countries that have welcomed Venezuelan migrants has been modest, totaling only a fraction of the resources mobilized to alleviate similar situations.  The Brookings Institute in Washington estimated that aid in the Venezuelan case totaled US$ 265 per person, while for the Syrian crisis, financial support amounted to US$ 3,150 per person . A greater effort by the international community isn’t just possible and necessary, it is urgent.


The Spanish version of this blog was initially published in El País


Carlos Felipe Jaramillo

World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean

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