While the world's eyes are on the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Syria, the second-greatest displacement of people, with 4 million leaving the country, is taking place in Venezuela. With the International solidarity conference on the Venezuelan refugee and migrant crisis today, the European Union, together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) aim to attract at least a fraction of the international community's attention to the problem.
According to the UNHCR's official numbers, refugees have reached 4.5 million, whereas thousands are still in the country struggling with hunger, violence as well as the lack of basic needs and medicine.
Years of economic mismanagement, corruption, repression and human rights violations forced people to pour out of the country, creating the largest refugee crisis in the history of the Americas. With no solution in sight in the country, Venezuelans are seeking refuge in neighboring countries and the Caribbean. A high dependence on oil for the economy to survive has led partly to the country's fall, as it was sensitive to oil price fluctuations combined with unskilled economic policies. However, with host countries that themselves struggle to get by with small economies, Venezuela's neighbors will start to reach their capacity unless the international community moves to support and aid them. The main reason why Venezuelans do not get the attention of the world is that the crisis is still widely regarded as a regional problem; on the contrary affecting a huge number of other countries.
The conference in Brussels is expected to be attended by the High Representative and Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino and UNHCR and IOM Joint Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants Eduardo Stein. The two-day conference aims to raise awareness on the ongoing crisis, and increase cooperation and funding while seeking possible solutions.
Hosting more than 1.4 million Venezuelans, Columbia is hosting the highest number, followed by Peru and Chile, respectively. Institutions and health facilities in Colombia are overwhelmed by the high number of incomers, leading the refugees again to live in bad conditions marked by hunger, diseases and lack of shelter. Sharing the longest border with Venezuela, Colombia cannot be expected to do more under these conditions as Venezuelans who have walked on foot for miles continue to appear at the border.
Around 80% percent of households struggle with hunger, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), suggesting the looming threat of famine. "It took us over seven days to reach Peru. We had nothing to eat in the end. We tried to spare all for our son, but he also went over 24 hours without a bite. He is only three," a Venezuelan father, Gerardo, told UNHCR workers.
In addition to the corrupt economy in the country, Venezuelans also pay the heavy fines of U.S. sanctions on the country, worsening the already fragile situation. As President Nicolas Maduro was criticized for corruption, opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president of the country aiming to oust the other. Escalating the situation in the country further with a tug of war between the two continues as different actors support each of the leaders. Guaido is backed by the U.S., which has recognized him officially, many Latin American countries including Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Peru and EU members such as Britain, Germany, France and Spain. The international community faces a deadlock that has to be answered very quickly, since all facts indicate a further deterioration in this humanitarian tragedy.