Humanitarian crisis continues as Venezuela exits UN Human Rights Council

Ruth GreenFriday 16 December 2022

In October, as Venezuela’s migrant population ballooned and its humanitarian crisis continued to escalate, the country was unceremoniously ousted from the UN’s Human Rights Council after serving only a single term.

Venezuela failed to secure the minimum 97 votes required to re-join the Council when UN members cast their votes in a secret ballot on 11 October. The country’s dramatic exit from the human rights body follows strong criticism of its appointment in 2020 amidst growing reports of human rights abuses committed by President Nicolás Maduro’s regime.

Venezuela’s expulsion highlights the international community’s growing frustration with its increasingly dire human rights situation. The vote also came just days after the Council adopted a resolution to extend the mandate of its Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Venezuela, which would continue investigating serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity being perpetrated in the country.

Since 2015, continued political and economic turmoil has forced at least 7.1 million civilians to flee Venezuela, making it the second largest displacement crisis in the world after Syria. Felipe Montoya, Managing Partner at Garcia & Montoya in Miami, says these latest moves at the UN signal the severity of what’s happening in Venezuela. ‘Humanitarian crises do not sit on the sidelines while world powers turn their attention elsewhere,’ he says. ‘Developments such as a continuing FFM are at least a means to continue raising awareness about the Venezuelan migrant crisis.’

Montoya says global powers have a duty to offer greater protections to Venezuelans even as they the grapple with significant refugee crises in countries like Ukraine and Afghanistan. ‘It is important that the plight of the Venezuelan people is not forgotten, especially by the US, given that Venezuela is in our backyard,’ he says. ‘For other world powers, the issue is one about solidarity and the responsibility to protect, in the sense that awareness about the Venezuelan crisis should not fade, so that when Venezuelan migrants knock on our doors, we will not turn them away because the crisis they fled from was forgotten.’

More efforts are needed from governments, including the US, to step up and provide a real commitment to this crisis

Cristina Garcia
Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, HIAS

The day after Venezuela was expelled from the Council, the Biden Administration launched a humanitarian parole programme to expedite the processing of some vulnerable Venezuelans seeking asylum in the US.

However, Montoya says the programme, which stands to help only 24,000 Venezuelans, will have little impact. ‘This means that roughly three-quarters of all Venezuelan migrants seeking to apply for asylum in the US will be left out,’ he says. ‘Even those 24,000 who will benefit will only be granted two years to remain in the US, thereafter being left out of status. Thus, the parole programme does not even begin to provide real, durable relief for Venezuelans fleeing persecution or seeking a more dignified life in the US.’

Alex Stojicevic, Refugee Officer of the IBA Immigration and Nationality Law Committee and managing partner of MKS Lawyers in Vancouver, agrees that although the US programme looks good on paper, it’s only a ‘drop in the bucket’ in terms of the number of Venezuelans seeking refuge.

Canada has already established specific immigration measures to support refugees fleeing Afghanistan and Ukraine. No such programmes exist for Venezuela, but Stojicevic believes this should be remedied. ‘Venezuela has not really registered on Canada’s radar,’ he says. ‘Special programmes tend to have a political component to them, but we have a responsibility in every crisis, not just the ones where we have a big diaspora.’

According to UN figures, 84 per cent of displaced Venezuelans are currently being hosted in 17 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean. Each year record numbers of Venezuelans attempt to cross the Darién Gap – one of the world’s most dangerous migrant routes that straddles the Colombia-Panama border – to make their way north to the US.

Luisa Feline Freier is an associate professor at Universidad del Pacífico in Lima and an expert on migration and refugee policies in Latin America. She says the new US programme will provide a significant ‘pull factor’ for more Venezuelans to risk embarking on treacherous migrant routes to the US, particularly those who have struggled to integrate fully into countries like Peru and Colombia.

She also believes both Latin American and North American nations should be doing more to help. ‘Neighbouring countries should do more to regularise, to give legal status and to facilitate socioeconomic integration so that Venezuelans can actually fulfil their potential both in socioeconomic, but also in cultural terms,’ she says. ‘And richer states such as the United States and Canada, of course, should take in many more Venezuelans than they currently are.’

UN agencies are seeking $1.72bn to support the Venezuelan diaspora, says Cristina Garcia, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at international not-for-profit HIAS, which has opened offices in 11 countries across the region to provide refugees with humanitarian aid and assistance.

But as displacement crises worldwide continue to challenge global economies, she warns there’s a significant funding shortfall. ‘The main response plans for 2022, including the one for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, is funded only 24 per cent as of November 2022,’ says Garcia. ‘The response plan for Ukrainians is 50 per cent. This situation has led to a competition not only in terms of funding but also regarding international attention to what’s happening in the region. More efforts are needed from governments, including the US, to step up and provide a real commitment to this crisis.’

There are some glimmers of hope. In September, the main border crossing between Venezuela and Colombia officially re-opened to trade and is due to open fully from 1 January, which may kickstart the local economy.

In late November, representatives from Maduro’s government and Venezuela’s political opposition agreed to establish an UN-managed fund to combat the country’s humanitarian crisis. The accord prompted the US to ease some oil sanctions that were imposed on Venezuela following the disputed 2018 election.

A United Nations International Organization for Migration vehicle. Image credit: Elena Berd/