The Americas’ Refugee Crisis: Responding to Forced Migration from Venezuela

Gastón Ocampo / Inter-American Dialogue

On October 31, the Inter-American Dialogue and its Venezuela Working Group in partnership with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) presented a new report on the Venezuelan forced migration crisis and potential solutions. This event featured a panel of experts moderated by Michael Camillieri, and featured panelists Lloyd Axworthy, Betilde Muñoz, Eduardo Stein, and Andrew Selee. The event focused on the forced exodus of Venezuelan citizens, the regional response to this wave of migrants and emerging backlash from domestic populations throughout the continent.

After opening remarks by Michael Shifter, the panelists were introduced by Fen Osler Hampson. Acknowledging the humanitarian challenges, deficiency of resources, and absence of clearly defined normative or institutional frameworks, Osler prefaced his comments by reminding the audience that actionable things need to be done and that international cooperation is key. He summarized the findings of the report and the policy recommendations presented, as well as mentioning the need to target Venezuela's leadership with economic sanctions and to work upon establishing both formal legal frameworks and social support for migration in host countries in order to facilitate access to education, stable working conditions, and tolerant environments for immigrants in the region.  

Each panelist was able to give a different perspective on the Venezuelan exodus and on the conclusions presented in the report. There was general agreement on the need for a stronger international framework on cooperation to manage the short- and long-term challenges presented by this crisis. Stein underscored the challenges caused by the fact that each country fronts these issues with its own distinct legislative framework, preventing the region from being able to address the crisis in a systemic way. He acknowledged the dire need to balance national agendas with the needs of the refugees and concluded that a proper identification process is key for a better control of the flow of immigrants in the border region.

Muñoz continued by stressing the importance of organizing a donors’ conference that sources funds for humanitarian relief and response in order to provide the necessary budgetary boosts for short- and long-term solutions. She also emphasized the need to give out work permits. Muñoz acknowledged the prevailing xenophobia towards Venezuelan refugees throughout the continent and stressed on the need to work with Latin American nations to mitigate this phenomenon. In Chile there are six magistrates of the supreme tribunal in exile working, with local authorities, on behalf of the Venezuelan migrant community. In Peru and Argentina, it is because of the diaspora that they have been able to think of assimilation plans to integrate the professional skills that the Venezuelan refugees bring into the table.

While acknowledging the need for legalizing the status of refugees and providing tools to immigrants in need of a more stable future, Andrew Selee pointed out that the signatories of the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees need to update the definition of “refugee”, so that the declaration can be efficiently applied to the crisis being originated in Venezuela. He stressed that the vague definition only gives those fleeing turmoil a temporary solution to their problem. He continued by saying that it is critical to invest on permanent solutions that would “lift immigrants up” and help them in a long term, taking into consideration that it seems the crisis will continue for a long time.

The session concluded with a Q&A session. One audience member inquired about the need to hold Venezuelan leaders accountable for the dire situation behind the outflow of people. Selee and Muñoz agreed that the flow will not be stopping any time soon. The OAS predicts that three million Venezuelans will have left the country by the end of the year- family reunification being the main driving force behind these movements. Furthermore, as long as the impunity and lack of accountability in Venezuela are not resolved, the situation will not be resolved, and the outflow will be consequently sustained. Axworthy said that preventing people from moving and denying their ability to resettle is illegal and refugee camps are not an efficient solution. Finally, Dr. Stein concluded by saying that unless there is a political solution being sought by Latin American leaders, the outflow will never cease to exist. All in all, the panel agreed that a long-term solution is the only way to solve the Venezuelan crisis in an efficient way.


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