Treat fleeing Venezuelans as refugees, U.N. urges world

GENEVA (Reuters) - Venezuelans fleeing political and economic crisis at home deserve protection as refugees, the United Nations said on Tuesday, urging other states not to deport them.

A Venezuelan migrant woman enters a camp run by the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Maicao, Colombia May 7, 2019. Picture taken May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

Some 3.7 million people have left Venezuela, including 3 million since 2015 as the economy has imploded causing widespread shortages and hunger, and anti-government street protests have brought waves of violence and deaths.

Venezuelans continue to leave at the rate of 3,000 to 5,000 a day, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said, giving updated guidance on how to handle the exodus.

“UNHCR ... now considers that the majority of those fleeing the country are in need of international refugee protection,” agency spokeswoman Liz Throssell told a news briefing.

“It is incredibly important given the situation in Venezuela that there aren’t deportations, expulsions or forced returns.”

UNHCR noted that there had been some deportations from Caribbean islands, including by Trinidad and Tobago last year.

Only 460,000 Venezuelans had sought formal asylum as of the end of 2018, mainly in Peru, the United States, Brazil and Spain, while others have legal stay arrangements in countries including Colombia, Chile and Ecuador, it said.

The U.N. children’s agency said that deteriorating conditions inside Venezuela had left vulnerable children with limited access to health, education, protection and nutrition services.

The agency has provided nearly 190,000 children with access to nutrition programs but cannot do all it wants to in Venezuela, UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac said.

Dozens of nations around the world now recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, saying President Nicolas Maduro rigged a 2018 election and is behaving like a dictator. But Guaido has been unable to remove Maduro, who still has the backing of the top military brass.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Cawthorne