It may be the most under-reported story of our time: the exodus from President Nicolas Maduro’s shambles of Venezuela of, the U.N. estimates, three million people.
Three reasons may account for this huge mass migration slipping out of global view. First, it has been overshadowed by the almost twice as large flight of refugees from Syria.
Second, for western news media, not just the larger scale, but the European destinations many of the Syrian refugees desired, made it a bigger story than a similar problem somewhere close to the Equator.
And, third, European popular resistance, sometimes violent, sometimes politically significant, gave the Syrian refugee crisis more headline and click-power than the one stemming from Venezuela, which was being managed in a more tolerant, civil spirit by neighboring Latin American nations. Non-violence has translated into non-coverage.
One – as usual – exception to the non-coverage problem has been the Associated Press, which has been on the story from the first flights out of Venezuela, and has tracked the spread of the three million human beings who make up that somewhat abstract number.
For the majority of fleeing Venezuelans, the first stop was the country next door, Colombia. U.N. and migration experts say two million have crossed into Colombia, and more than a million remain there.
The government has herded many of them into refugee camps near the border, a mostly rural area with few job opportunities. For refugees who made it farther, into cities like Colombia’s capital Bogota, the welcome is wearing out. The city closed a big tent camp on a soccer field, uprooting hundreds who say they have nowhere to go.
The city will help with buses out of town, but says it has no plans to open any new shelters, or even tent cities.
The story is similar, but worse in the next country south, Ecuador. Again, the best estimates are that up to 1.3 million Venezuelan refugees have passed into Ecuador and some 220,000 are still living in the country. Recently, one refugee killed another in a stabbing captured on video and widely seen on social media. It was the first capital crime to have been committed by a Venezuelan, but the backlash was huge, violent and widespread. Ecuador’s political leaders have leapt on the issue, announcing that from now on, no Venezuelans will be admitted into Ecuador without producing a clean criminal record, a document no one believes Venezuelans in self-exile will be able to get from their rejected government.
This is the very requirement the government of Argentina withdrew months ago, because they knew it was mostly impossible to fulfill.
Meanwhile, a recent study by a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington estimated that within two or three years the number of Venezuelan refugees will be eight million…considerably bigger than the 5.5 million in flight from Syria. Will the world and its news media take notice then?
Christine Armario has been reporting for the Associated Press for more than a decade. She’s been based in Miami, Tampa and Los Angeles, but for the past 2 years she’s been reporting out of Bogota, Colombia. Before that, Christine reported for Newsday in New York where she was recognized by the NYC Press Club with the Nellie Bly award for being the city’s best young journalist.