As the country is running downhill day by day, Venezuelans are migrating searching salvation and healthcare necessities in neighboring countries, such as Brazil and Colombia. This diaspora is causing rising tension in the region because of the inability of those countries to face the migrants’ requests due to their political fragility
By Pietro Dionisio
EU health project manager at Medea SRL, Florence, Italy
Degree in Political Science, International Relations Cesare Alfieri School, University of Florence, Italy
The Venezuelan Powder Keg Floods in the Neighboring Countries
While Venezuelans keep protesting against the Maduro’s Government, blamed of acting always more as a dictator, the country economy runs worse day by day. This is the third year of recession and last year its economy shrank 18%. The IMF’s prediction for inflation in Venezuela is pretty bad, but better than previous expectations: It’s expected to skyrocket 720% this year — somehow only half of the previous forecast. But if Venezuela stays on its current path, the IMF predicts inflation will rise over 2000% in 2018.
This has a deep impact on the health sector. Antibiotics are lacking and it is very difficult to get them, but that is not all. According to the most recent National Survey of Hospitals, 97% of services provided by hospitals are faulty, 75% of hospitals suffer from scarcity of medical supplies, and 63% reported problems with their water system.
Finally, Maduro’s administration decided to make public some health statistics, and what they reveal is dramatic. Venezuela’s infant mortality rose 30% last year (almost 11.000 children under the age of one died in 2016), maternal mortality shot up 65% and cases of malaria jumped 76%, according to government data, sharp increases reflecting how the country’s deep economic crisis has hammered at citizens’ health. Data showed also a jump in illnesses such as diphtheria and Zika.
Last March, Nicolas Maduro declared the necessity for the Venezuela’s public health system to radically change towards a universal, inclusive, humanistic, preventive and socialistic health system. Unfortunately, these words have no substance as the Country is collapsing on itself and is torn down by daily manifestations.
As Venezuela’s economic and social crisis has reached a boiling point in recent weeks, with enormous and increasingly violent protests and President Nicolás Maduro descending further into authoritarianism, it is not surprising that Venezuelans are trying to find salvation elsewhere. As such, those who can, are emigrating to Brazil asking for medicine and food. There is an unprecedented number of sick and hungry Venezuelans immigrating to a northern state of Brazil. More than 12,000 Venezuelans have entered via the border that Venezuela shares with the Brazilian state of Roraima and stayed in Brazil since 2014 and the volume is rising. 2016 alone saw 7,150 Venezuelans crossing the border.
The situation is not easy. As Brazil is reducing public funding for health, the Roraima State is trying to address the circumstances assisting both Brazilian and Venezuelans but with little success. The General Hospital of Roraima, which serves 80% of adults in the state, provided care to 1,815 Venezuelans in 2016, up more than three-fold from 2015. In February 2017, the hospital treated an average of 300 Venezuelan patients a month. The number of Venezuelan women seeking care at Roraima’s maternity hospital almost doubled in 2016, to 807. At the hospital in the border town of Pacaraima, about 80% of patients are Venezuelans, and Venezuelan women made more than half of prenatal care visits between January and August 2016.
In Roraima the system for processing asylum is not able to promptly process all the Venezuelans’ requests, both for the volume of application and the lack of requirements. In fact, many immigrants don’t fulfill the requirements for refugee status, which they are only granted if they can prove that they have suffered some kind of persecution or violation of human rights in their home country. To overcome the issue, the Government opted to grant temporary residence to Venezuelans and migrants from other bordering countries. In particular, the law aims at allowing Venezuelans who have requested asylum to stay in Brazil, obtain work permits and enroll their children in school.
But Brazil is not the only “land of salvation”. In fact, massive Venezuelan migration heads towards Colombia too. In January, 47,095 Venezuelans entered Colombia, more than double the number from January of last year. Some 21,000 of them crossed into Norte de Santander, the state of which Cúcuta is the capital. Here and at other points along the nearly 1,400-mile border, the situation is getting out of hand.
Furthermore, the most acute issue at the border is the rising number of Venezuelans making the journey for medical care and Colombia’s hospitals are starting to feel the pressure as they are not used to this high volume of Venezuelan patients.
The situation is getting worse day by day and is not affecting just Venezuela but also neighboring countries that are not ready to promptly assist the great volume of migrants crossing their borders. Colombia and Brazil’s health system are already extremely stressed by the internal care demand and therefore are unable to deal with an external emergency. This aggravates the healthcare emergency situation which was already dramatic before the increase of immigration. As long as Maduro does not decide to desert the authoritarian turnaround that he is trying to enforce in his own country, it is likely that the humanitarian crisis in progress can only worsen, with negative implications for all North Latin America.