GENEVA – Asylum requests lodged by Venezuelan citizens so far in the first half of 2017 have almost doubled the number recorded during the whole of the previous year, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday.
Some 27,000 Venezuelans applied for asylum in countries around the world during 2016, but in just the first six months of 2017, the figure had soared to 52,000, the UNHCR said in a statement, adding the principal destination for fleeing citizens were the United States, which received 18,300 asylum seekers, Brazil (12,960), Argentina (11,735) and Spain (4,300).
“The above figures represent only a fraction of the total number of Venezuelans who may be in need of international protection, as many do not register as asylum seekers, despite the fact that many have indicated that they fled because of violence and insecurity, as well as an inability to meet daily subsistence needs,” the UNHCR warned.
The refugee agency said that although many Venezuelans who have fled their country enjoyed temporary residence in South American countries because of a tradition of solidarity in the continent, bureaucracy and other obstacles to being granted asylum meant many remained in an irregular situation.
The UNHCR was working with authorities in neighboring Colombia, where an estimated 300,000 Venezuelans were estimated to be seeking refuge, as well as in Trinidad and Tobago (40,000) and Brazil (30,000), in order speed up registrations and provide basic humanitarian aid.
The UNHCR said it was concerned by the activities of armed groups and gangs exploiting fleeing Venezuelans.
Indigenous communities displaced along Venezuela’s border with Brazil and Colombia were also at risk of having their human rights breached, the UN body said.
The UNHCR urged all concerned States to protect the rights of Venezuelans and draw up measures to facilitate their asylum applications.
It also called on Venezuelans seeking refuge abroad to register as asylum seekers through the appropriate official channels.