Source: UNICEF Ecuador.
What gets lost in today’s conversations about Venezuela is the continuing plight of its people: the stories of over 7.1 million people who were forced to flee, and the many more who still live within the country in desperate conditions. The migratory flows stemming from Venezuela are still the biggest ongoing issue in Latin America. As a migrant from Venezuela myself, and the President of Coalición por Venezuela, a global federation of Venezuelan refugee- and migrant-led organizations, I am in continuous contact with people in difficult situations. Their needs are pressing. So where exactly is this message getting lost between migrants like me and the international community?
Last week, I was invited to speak at the 2023 Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants and their Host Countries and Communities in Brussels, which aimed to “maintain the visibility of this crisis, and to continue to support host countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region.” Despite this well-intentioned goal, I was one of the only speakers from the diaspora. It is striking that at a conference about how to support Venezuelan refugees and migrants, we barely heard from them.
When the international community listens, they often learn that the Venezuelan crisis—despite its scale—is drastically underfunded, and refugee- and migrant-led organizations are leading the humanitarian response. Venezuelan civil society organizations are crucial in helping to integrate new arrivals into their host communities. When Venezuelans are forced to migrate, they often struggle to receive documentation, which limits their ability to work formally, move freely, and access education and health systems. Venezuelans, in particular, have trouble obtaining passports abroad due to prohibitive costs, the absence of consular representations in many countries, and extreme delays in the delivery of documents. This situation creates a lack of trust in our institutions, which then turn to refugee- and migrant-led organizations for guidance and assistance.
To better support Venezuelan migrants, the international community should ensure that 20 percent of the USD $855 million raised from last week’s Donors’ Conference be allocated to grassroots organizations led by refugees and migrants. This can be done by earmarking a quota of funds for grassroots organizations or adopting a results-based funding model. Direct funding to grassroots organizations will increase the self-reliance of displaced communities and ease the obligations of host countries and communities.
Another way the international community can effectively address this crisis is to systematically involve Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the design, implementation, and evaluation of national and multilateral regularization processes. As Colombia, Ecuador, and other countries in the region move past the initial phases of their integration process for Venezuelan migrants, it is crucial to involve us in highlighting best practices we have heard from our communities and identify gaps or difficulties in the design. For example, Coalición members in Perú have identified gaps in the regularization process that force Venezuelan migrants to renew their documents yearly and thus accumulate penalties. We are working closely with the Peruvian Senate to amend this law. In Panamá and Necoclí, we have sounded early alerts of new migrant displacements.
The international community has already begun to recognize the importance of incorporating a variety of perspectives in the design of its programs. Last Wednesday, the State members of the Quito process, a technical coordination group of Latin American states to address the flow of forcibly displaced Venezuelans, stated that responses to this situation should come from a “participatory and intersectional perspective” that creates comprehensive proposals by promoting “the contribution of all involved actors.” Similarly, the Chilean ambassador to the EU expressed support for increased involvement of civil society in the Quito process. We ask the international community to turn this rhetoric into action and formally create a refugee and migrant advisory board for the Quito process.
Finally, we cannot effectively address the flow of refugees and migrants from Venezuela without addressing its root cause—political and economic instability. Here, too, the international community can play an important role.
The next round of presidential elections in Venezuela is scheduled for 2024, and the international community must work together with civil society—inside and outside of Venezuela—to ensure these elections are free, transparent, and competitive. Support must include helping to implement strong mechanisms to allow members of the diaspora to vote; for example, updating the Electoral Permanent Register because of the 7+ million Venezuelans abroad, only around 100,000 are currently registered. We also urge the international community to provide continued support for multilateral efforts to strengthen respect for human rights. Furthermore, it is non-negotiable that the European Union Delegation or the Organization of American States (OAS) is sent as an international observer of the election, and that the international community promotes strong and safe voting systems and competitive candidacies.
With a better-resourced and more widely consulted civil society, as well as free, transparent, and competitive elections, we can make great progress in resolving this crisis. In the end, all we want is to set roots and find peace at home.
Ana María Díez is a Venezuelan lawyer. She has a Master’s in Public Management and a diploma in Social Inclusion from the OAS. She was a former protection manager for HelpAge International and, in 2021, she was named an Inspirational Social Leader from Ernst & Young Venezuela. Currently, Ana María Díez is the President of Coalición por Venezuela, which she represents at UNHCR’s Advisory Board of organizations led by displaced and stateless people.