More than 4,000 Venezuelan citizens, stranded in 10 countries, have demanded repatriation flights to Venezuela, according to news reports. For more than three months, Venezuelans living in vulnerable situations during the pandemic have been waiting for flights in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Spain, Panamá, and the United States. Joselin Ferrer, a 41 years old lawyer, is one of the few Venezuelans who has been able to return to her country.
Thousands of Venezuelan migrants in South America face a Hobson’s choice, remain in their host countries in conditions of extreme vulnerability and mandatory quarantines, or return to Venezuela, despite the risks of contagion from the virus, the closure of borders, and Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.
The Venezuelan economic, political and health crisis has triggered an exodus of Venezuelans to countries throughout the region. As of early 2019, an estimated 3.4 million Venezuelans had fled to other countries in the region and beyond. The paper reports on the findings and recommendations from public health missions undertaken in the summer of 2018 to two communities that have received large numbers of Venezuelans: (1) Cúcuta, in the Colombian border state of North Santander, and; (2) Bôa Vista and Pacaraima, in the state of Roraima, Brazil. These studies included interviews with health providers and organizations engaged in the humanitarian response, secondary analysis of grey literature, and data shared by key informants. Surveillance data demonstrated increases in infectious diseases, as well as adverse maternal and neonatal health outcomes among Venezuelans in both North Santander and Roraima. The paper finds that while the Colombian and Brazilian government responses to the immediate needs of Venezuelans have been admirable, they are not sustainable. In particular, there is an urgent need for an expanded humanitarian response to the Venezuelan migrant crisis in the region, particularly to address health needs where surveillance data shows recent and rapid rises in infectious diseases, acute malnutrition, and poor maternal and neonatal health outcomes. It reports that lack of access to preventative and primary care and inadequate funding of life-saving emergency care could result in a health crisis for Venezuelans in Colombia and could impact public health more broadly if not addressed through a more comprehensive and adequately funded humanitarian response. In Brazil, there is a need to invest in integration programs to improve the health and wellbeing of Venezuelans who have fled their country, with sensitivity to the needs of receiving communities, especially those who are underserved, in order to minimize resentment from the local population. This complex and costly process, the paper concludes, will require political will and financial support from neighboring countries, and the international community at large. In the longer term, however, only a resolution of the complex health and humanitarian crisis within Venezuela itself will address these transnational threats to health in the region.
Despite the largest immigration enforcement budget in US history, the Border Patrol is set to apprehend the highest number of border crossers in more than a decade. This essay argues that the administration’s enforcement-only approach cannot successfully address this humanitarian crisis, and does not deserve any additional funding. Instead, the administration should respond to the conditions driving Central American and Venezuelan asylum seekers, provide protection for those fleeing violence and other impossible conditions, and create a strong, well-resourced US asylum system.