The crisis-stricken country of Venezuela has surpassed Syria as the number one source of asylum requests into the United States, according to latest statistics.
In the first half of 2017, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service received 15,432 asylum applications from Venezuela, meaning the number of applications is likely to surpass last year’s total of 18,155.
Between 2014 and 2016, applications have risen by a staggering 518 percent, surpassing countries such as Syria, Ethiopia, Haiti, and China in asylum requests.
Applicants are typically trying to flee the country’s worsening humanitarian crisis, which has led to chronic lack of resources and skyrocketing inflation that has driven the country’s monthly minimum wage down to just $3.50.
According to international law and Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, asylum is provided to those fleeing political persecution as a result of being a member of a particular nationality, race, or social group, meaning most Venezuelans cannot demand special protection.
However, as the governing socialist party led by Nicolás Maduro has descended into a dictatorship following the creation of a fraudulent lawmaking body known as the “national constituent assembly,” growing numbers of Venezuelans are facing political persecution for speaking out against the regime.
In August, the country’s former Prosecutor General, Luisa Ortega Diaz, a former loyalist to the late Hugo Chávez, was granted political asylum in Colombia after repeatedly criticizing the new assembly, as well as accusing Maduro of personally profiting from food rations.
A report from the Spanish Commission for Helping Refugees also found that Spain has seen a massive uptick in the number of applications, with 3,960 applications in 2016 compared to just 596 in 2015.
“The upsurge of the precarious political situation and economic crisis helps explain this exodus, which is also focused towards the United States, where Venezuelans also lead the demand for international protection,” the report states.
Colombia has already drawn up plans for refugee camps amid fears of a continued exodus of people. Images from towns on the Venezuela-Colombia border have shown tens of thousands of people crossing the border in one day.
Emigration to other countries has also increased, with authorities in the Dominican Republic last week revealing that nearly 20,000 Venezuelans have fled to the tiny island in the past two years.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to help solve the Venezuelan crisis through continued economic sanctions against the socialist regime and has even said he is considering a military solution.
“The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” Trump said in July, later adding that he has “many options for Venezuela. I’m not ruling out military options.”