Venezuelan diaspora reaches 5.5 million or 17% of pre-crisis population

29 August 2018 5 min. read

Venezuela is in the midst of a mass exodus which has seen almost a fifth of the entire population emigrate. The economic situation in the country has become so dire that a further one out of every two Venezuelans who remain in the country have aspirations to leave. Venezuela now rivals Syria – with 5.6 million fleeing the conflict – in terms of internationally displaced people.

A new report by Caracas based research and consulting firm Consultores 21 contends that the level of emigration from Venezuela is much higher than UN estimates. An article released this week by Quartz which contains data from the UN’s International Organization for Migration suggested that 2.3 million had left the country since 2014. 

"We are living the largest population exodus that Venezuela has ever known. To date, the diaspora represents more than 5.5 million Venezuelans,” the Consultores 21 report outlines. The majority of Venezuelans have fled to Colombia, with Brazil, Peru and Ecuador also taking in increasingly greater numbers. The crisis has had an effect beyond Venezuela’s neighbours as well, with Spain, the US, Argentina and Chile also receiving over half a million Venezuelans combined. 

“This is building to a crisis moment that we’ve seen in other parts of the world, particularly in the Mediterranean,” said Joel Millman, a spokesman for the UN’s International Organization for Migration. “A difficult situation can become a crisis situation very quickly and we have to be prepared.”

By June of this year, precisely 5,511,965 Venezuelans had emigrated. Of that total, the greatest exodus (31%) was seen in the western Zulia-Occidente region – which contains Maracaibo, the country’s second largest city. The Llanos and Andes region which further border Colombia on the country’s interior have seen the second highest number of migrants at 19%. According to the research, the capital, Caracas had also contributed 18% of all Venezuelan migrants. 

Where Venezuelans are leaving from

To make matters worse, the consulting firm’s report also analysed the current attitudes towards future emigration. Throughout the second half of June, the firm surveyed 2,000 respondents from around the country, with the majority saying that they would prefer to leave the country. There has however been a profound shift in the demographic of those intending to leave, which was predominantly composed of young Venezuelans of the professional middle and upper class.

It’s not surprising however, with the situation likely to further deteriorate with the re-election of Nicolas Maduro earlier this year. Maduro will continue the socialist policies laid out by his predecessor Hugo Chavez whilst tackling an inflation rate that is tipped to hit 1 million percent later this year. 

Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) are said to be champions of the lower and middle class in Venezuela, promising to tackle the social inequality in the country. The party’s traditional backers are now also fleeing the country with the belief that the situation will not become better for them in the near future.

“In the past, opponents were the political group that was the least affected by the departure of people from the country, but at present the highest growth rate of those who want to emigrate corresponds to people who support the government,” states Venezuelan newspaper El Pitazo.

According to the report, the highest percentage of people who are considering migrating abroad are within the age group of 18 to 24 years. Of the group of 25 to 44 years, 49% considered positive the idea of leaving the country. Among those over 45, only 38% want to leave the country.

Percentage of age bracket considering leaving Venezuela

Maduro responds 

President Maduro’s response to the exodus has been to let his citizens leave and he has been critical of his neighbours’ response to tighten security at borders. He has also been vocal of the treatment of Venezuelans in other countries, while noting that Venezuela took in six million Colombians during the civil war. “Out of every 10 deliveries there are two births which are to Colombian families," he said in a press release from the presidential office.

The press release was titled ‘Venezuelans wishing to return to their homeland will be greeted with love’ and celebrated the fact that 89 Venezuelans has boarded a plane from Lima to return home. “All Venezuelans who have left and wish to return from the economic slavery [abroad] to which they have been subjected, are invited to come and live and love their country again."

The President’s message is a warning to those who remain in the country – if you leave, the grass may not be as green as you think. “In Venezuela we have never had campaigns of xenophobia as there are in other countries of the oligarchy, this is a special country and we must learn to value it,” he said.

Massive brain-drain?

Maduro’s attempts to bring back citizens is significant as the country’s brain-drain sets in. Since 2014, the country has seen a flood of educated citizens and international talent flee the flailing economics of the Bolivarian Revolution. The report states that "it is difficult to predict what will happen in the long term, but for now, 3 out of 10 migrants warned their families that they do not plan to return.”

The plan is called ‘Return to Homeland’, which promises a flight on the government’s expense as well as assistance with finding a job in Venezuela. However, since the start of the year, an average salary has fallen from $45 a month to roughly $8 a month due to hyperinflation. The low rate of wages is forcing thousands to flee each day and will have a considerable effect on the country’s competitive ability into the future.