Venezuela Refugee Crisis: 4 Million Have Fled Collapsing Nation, UN Says, in One of World's Biggest-ever Migrations

More than 4 million Venezuelans have now fled the beleaguered South American nation, according to a new report published by agencies at the United Nations.

The refugees are fleeing acute financial crises and political instability in the oil-rich country, where inflation and unemployment are high and quality of life has plummeted. Those who remain face chronic food, fuel and medical shortages, routine power cuts and spreading epidemics.

The country is also currently mired in a power struggle between embattled President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition, led by self-declared Interim President Juan Guaido.

The report—published by the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration—said the rate of exodus had rocketed since the end of 2015, when the figure stood at 695,000. In just seven months since November 2018, the total number of Venezuelan refugees increased by 1 million, the agencies reported.

"Globally, Venezuelans are one of the single largest population groups displaced from their country," a statement accompanying the report explained. At 4 million, the figure represents one of the largest exoduses in modern history, sitting slightly lower than the estimated 5 million that fled the Korean War or were externally displaced by the Syrian Civil War.

The number represents around 12.5 percent of Venezuela's 2017 population according to data from the World Bank, and around double the population of the capital Caracas.

The report said the "alarming" number illustrates the urgent need to support neighboring states hosting refugees, such as Colombia (1.3 million), Peru (768,000), Chile (288,000), Ecuador (263,000), Brazil (168,000) and Argentina (130,000).

Other nations are hosting smaller numbers of refugees, including Mexico and various nations in Central America and the Caribbean.

"These alarming figures highlight the urgent need to support host communities in the receiving countries," said Eduardo Stein, joint UNHCR-IOM special representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants.

"Latin American and Caribbean countries are doing their part to respond to this unprecedented crisis but they cannot be expected to continue doing it without international help," Stein added.

As millions flee, Venezuela lawmakers are attempting to find away through the political crisis crippling the nation. Maduro—back by countries including Russia, China and Cuba—has refused to cede power to U.S.- and Europe-backed Guaido and the National Assembly, who claim Maduro is an illegitimate ruler who won rigged the most recent presidential election in his own favor.

The two sides are stuck in a stalemate, with the nation's powerful military refusing to abandon Maduro despite American pressure to do so. Maduro—who has reportedly surrounded himself with loyal Cuban troops and aides—has characterized Guaido's challenge as an imperialist coup led by the U.S.

Venezuela, Refugee crisis, migration
People wait to enter a church-run charity that helps Venezuelan migrants with food and basic medical needs on February 28, 2019 in Cucuta, Colombia. Getty/Joe Raedle