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Diving into the Migration Crisis in Venezuela and its Implications on Other Countries

Authors: Ryan Ang, Paarth Agarwal Region Head: Tan Chok Geow

Editor: Akshat Daga

Illustration by Pua Yen Ting


The Venezuelan Refugee Crisis is the largest refugee migration in recent history. Ever since 2012, more than 4.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country as it grapples with a deep political and economic crisis. This number is growing at an alarming rate, as it is projected to reach 8.2 million by the end of 2020 (Borachi, 2019). The crisis mainly manifests itself through soaring rates of poverty, extreme shortages in food as well as crumbling infrastructure for healthcare and other necessities. This crisis is not only a threat to the republic, but to the entire Central and Latin America region. In this essay, we attempt to explore the intricate relationship between the economics and social impacts of massive humanitarian migration on the Central-Latin Americas as well as the importance of public communication efforts by the governments to foster understanding and cooperation in the society.

The Three Main Drivers of the Venezuela Migration Crisis

The basic needs of any society are: 1. Security, 2. Infrastructure and, 3. Opportunities. In Venezuela, each of these components are being threatened by the drastic political and socio-economic disintegration, resulting in severe food shortages, a decline in health infrastructure, and increased violent civil disorder.

Firstly, food security has reached an all-time low, causing 21.2% of the population to suffer acute malnutrition, a level 6 times higher than in 2009. Many of the inhabitants of Venezuela are unable to afford necessities as the economy collapses, with GDP per capita declining from 11,500USD (Statista, 2010) to 2,547USD (Statista, 2019).

Secondly, the inevitability crumbling of the healthcare infrastructure puts a further strain on the society, resulting in many people losing access to basic healthcare. From the National Hospital Survey conducted in 2018, medicinal imports have declined by close to 70%, despite the raging Malaria endemic in the country with cases reaching to 500k (WHO, 2019) in the country, though the number of cases is widely understated.

Lastly, the increased frequency of domestic violence and crime threatens the social fabric of the nation. With an estimated increase of “80% in calls to their helplines and 62% in psychological first aid consultations” (Pineda, 2020) as well as “the world’s highest murder rate, 81.4 per 100,000 inhabitants”(Reuters,2018) provide a glimpse to the increasing tension and decline in national security within the society.

Impacts of Migration on the Region

Economic Perspective:

The scale and the rate of migration is unprecedented. This puts a strain on the governments of Colombia and Peru, as increased spending for healthcare, security and housing will be required to address those that are displaced. Secondly, the sudden short-term influx of low-skilled migrants into the countries creates a “supply shock” to the low-skilled industries, as many migrants can work at wages unimaginable to the locals. A study conducted in 2017 states that with just a 1% influx of migrants, there is an estimated drop of 10% in wages for the low-skilled industry. This further stresses the low-income households in Columbia and Peru, creating tensions and unhappiness.

Yet on the other hand, massive migration brings forth economic opportunities in the long-run. In a study conducted by the European Commission, it is stated that “(refugees), If well integrated, refugees can contribute to greater flexibility in the labour market, help address demographic challenges, and improve fiscal sustainability. (EC,2016)” However, there is a need for well fiscal-management as the sudden increase in population requires massive capital investments into infrastructure such as healthcare, education and employment.

Social Perspective:

The impact of COVID19 on the society cannot be underestimated in countries such as Peru and Columbia where the majority of the society works in informal jobs. It is estimated that current unemployment rates have risen to 21% in Columbia and 13% in Peru. Even before COVID19, the public opinion towards acceptance of Venezuelan migrants has been unfavorable, with 69% of the population regarding it as a problem in the country (Stott & Long, 2020) in Columbia. With COVID-19 forcing many factories and other jobs opportunities to close down, it is forecasted that the local disapproval towards the migrants competing for the same employment opportunities would increase.

Migration Causational Relationship with Social Unrest.

As Idean and Kristian wrote, “refugee flows can change the ethnic balance in a country sparking discontent by local populations towards the refugees as well as the government that allows access. Competition among locals and foreigners of a different ethnicity may lead to conflict, especially if there is a domestic minority of the same ethnic group as the foreign population – dominance of the majority group is jeopardised.” (Salehyan & Gleditsch, 2006)

In recent years, we can see an increasing trend in the outbreaks of violent riots due to the influx of refugees throughout the world, caused by a clash of ideologies and beliefs. In Sweden, a country with a much higher social security and GDP per capita as compared to Columbia and Peru, violent riots broke out when a conservative leader suggested the burning of the Quran, the religious text of majority Islam Syrian immigrants. Similarly, though neighbours, Venezuela and Colombia have strikingly different cultural ideologies. This contrast in beliefs causes the Columbian locals to look down upon the migrants and hence not treating them fairly. The increased agitation leads to an increase in civil disorder.

Recommendations for Central – Latin America Governments

There are several long-term benefits that may stem from massive migration. In Peru alone, such potential benefits include “2.2 billion Peruvian soles in tax revenue over the next 5 years, an increase of labour productivity by 3.2%, a contribution of 8% in GDP by Venezuelan immigrants who are young and skilled.” (World Bank, 2019). However, such benefits are not being communicated down to the layman of the society to foster understanding and cohesion. Therefore, we suggest the government of Central-Latin America to include its citizens by ramping up communication efforts especially through forms of dialogic communication or social media to address societal concerns and build common ground for understanding.

The pros of this solution is that such execution of communication efforts are cost-effective and easy to implement. Dialogic communication in this aspect refers to a panel session between the government and citizens where the plans of the government are being communicated down to the audience, while the concerns from the audience are being raised in the forms of “Q&A”. It is seen that “ The distrust in government and a high level of situational uncertainty were significantly mitigated by citizens’ perception of government efforts for dialogic communication during a crisis. (Kang, Minjeong ; Kim, Jangyul Robert ; Cha, Heewon, 2018).

Social media can be another effective tool to disseminate information and plans to citizens in an effort to be as transparent and efficient as possible. As Graham, Avery and Park concluded that “ (social media’s) Efficiency, convenience, accountability, transparency, citizen involvement, and improved trust and democracy are among the cited benefits of social media use in government “ (Melissa Graham; Elizabeth Avery; Sejin Park, 2015). Similarly, the government can exploit the growing use of social media in Columbia and Peru by posting migrant friendly posts. They can explain the benefits of migrants to the local population and take real world examples to prove it. It would greatly impact the upcoming generation who are in their teenage years.

Despite the many short-term shocks that stem from the massive migration in Venezuela, we believe that this crisis has the capability to be turned into an opportunity for the region. The main priority for the governments of the Central and Latin America nations will then be to prioritise the building of a common purpose and thereby integrate the migrants into local communities. After all, if it takes a village to raise a child, it will take an entire nation to overcome a crisis.


(Figure 1 Migrant Flow)

(Figure 2: GDP per capita Venezuela)


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