Nearly two million people have fled Venezuela since 2015, the U.N. revealed on Monday, nearly a third of the number who have fled Syria in less than twice the amount of time.
U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) chief Filippo Grandi confirmed that 1.9 million Venezuelans have left the country in the past three years, equivalent to five percent of the country’s population. Grandi estimated the total size of the Venezuelan diaspora worldwide as 2.6 million.
“Some 5,000 people are now leaving Venezuela daily – the largest population movement in Latin America’s recent history,” he told the organization’s executive committee. “A non-political and humanitarian approach is essential to help states receiving them in growing numbers.”
“I congratulate the states that have kept their borders open and offer asylum or other forms of legal stay” he continued. “There is still a lot to be done to ensure the regional coherence of the response provided in terms of protection of individuals.”
UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told AFP that the figure of 1.9 million people was higher than previous estimates of around 1.6 million, adding that “the great exodus began this year.”
“According to official government data, we estimate that 1.9 million Venezuelans left their country since 2015 to go mainly to other countries in South America such as Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru,” Splinder said.
Neighboring Colombia has been the largest recipient of Venezuelan migrants, accepting over one million people, while Brazil has also taken large amounts of people through its northern border. Many of those arriving are in need of humanitarian assistance, as basic food and medical products are largely unavailable in Venezuela due to chronic shortages caused by lack of funds.
Although the response of most countries to the migrants has been one of open arms, the arrival of large amounts of people in specific areas has caused tensions in local communities to skyrocket. In poor neighborhoods in Brazil, for example, Venezuelans are often subject to xenophobic attacks and a struggle to find decent employment.
As the crisis in Venezuela continues to deepen, regional powers are increasingly considering the prospect of a more radical solution to oust the Maduro regime that is responsible for the situation. Countries such as the United States, Canada, Colombia, and Guyana have all refused to rule out the possibility of a military intervention, although some governments remain firmly opposed to such an idea.
Last week, the United States imposed further sanctions on officials with the Maduro regime, while President Donald Trump maintained that “all options are on the table” to deal with the crisis.
“All options are on the table, every one,” he told reporters. “The strong ones and the less than strong ones – and you know what I mean by strong. Every option is on the table with respect to Venezuela.”