Venezuelan exodus to reach 5.3 million by 2019, UN says

The United Nations says the number of Venezuelans fleeing the country's economic and humanitarian crisis is expected to reach 5.3 million by the end of 2019 in what has become the largest exodus in modern Latin American history.

'Forced displacement' could cost humanitarian organizations $738M US

The UN says the number of Venezuelans who have fled their country amid an ongoing humanitarian and economic crisis is expected to reach 5.3 million by next year. (Michelle Gagnon/CBC News)

The United Nations says the number of Venezuelans fleeing the country's economic and humanitarian crisis is expected to reach 5.3 million by the end of 2019 in what has become the largest exodus in modern Latin American history.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday that humanitarian organizations will need $738 million US to provide migrants with critical services like food and emergency shelter as added stress is put on receiving nations.

"We know that thousands leave every day, so if you do the math, I think if we're not there [yet], we'll be at the same scale of the Syrian displacement quite soon," Feline Freier, a professor and researcher at the Universidad del Pacífico in Peru, told CBC News in September.

"We're talking about forced displacement. These people leave Venezuela because if they do not leave, they don't survive."

About half of the new arrivals are expected to stay in Colombia, while the others will journey on to Ecuador, Peru and the Southern Cone.

Countries around the region pledged at a recent meeting in Ecuador to formulate a joint response to the migration crisis, making a streamlined process for migrants so they can regularize their legal status.

'Humanitarian earthquake'

About 5,000 Venezuelans flee their homeland daily, down from a peak of 13,000 in August, said Eduardo Stein, a joint special representative for the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"The region had to respond to an emergency that in some areas of concern was almost similar to a massive earthquake. We are indeed facing a humanitarian earthquake," he told a news briefing.

About 3.3 million Venezuelans have fled the political and economic crisis in their homeland, most since 2015, the agency said.

About 365,000 of them have sought asylum, UN refugee boss Filippo Grandi said.

"The reasons these people left are ranging from pure hunger to violence and lack of security ... We at UNHCR believe many have valid reasons to seek international protection," he said.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators proposed on Thursday giving temporary protected status to Venezuelan migrants to the United States.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blames its economic problems on U.S. financial sanctions and an "economic war" led by political adversaries.

The UN aid plan, presented to donors on Friday, aims to help Venezuelans to become productive contributors in host countries, said Antonio Vitorio, director general of the IOM.

"This means focusing on access to the labour market, recognition of qualifications and also guaranteeing that the provision of social services in those countries — especially housing, health, and education — are up to the stress that derives from the newcomers," he said.

With files from CBC News and Reuters