A Venezuelan refugee walks towards a UN Refugee Agency stand in Peru

Facts and figures: Regularization and protection of Venezuelan nationals in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile

Venezuelan migration:

  • More than 7.71 million Venezuelans are currently living outside of their country (as of August 2023). This amounts to over 25% of the total population of Venezuela. In June 2023, the closing date of the report Regularize and Protect, the figure was 7.32 million.
  • 1 in 4 people in Venezuela have fled their homes, most of them since 2018.
  • More than 80% of these people are in Latin America and the Caribbean. More specifically, 70% are in Colombia (2.9 million), Peru (1.5 million), Ecuador (475,000), and Chile (444,000).
  • Outside of Latin America and the Caribbean, the top 10 host countries include: the United States, which ranks 3rd, with 545,000 Venezuelan nationals in its territory (September 2021 figure); and Spain, in 5th position, with 477,000 (January 2022 figure).
  • Colombia is the largest host country for Venezuelan migrants, with at least 2.9 million, while Peru has received the most applications for refugee status from Venezuelans, with 532,000 such applications pending a decision.

International protection and refugee status:

  • The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, of which Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile are all signatories, are the main legal instruments for the global protection of refugees. The Convention defines a refugee in Article 1A.
  • The Convention recognises, among others, the right to freedom of religion and movement, the right to paid work, to self-employment and to practise a liberal profession, the right to education, housing and public relief, and the right to social security under the same conditions as nationals.
  • The 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees was incorporated in the national law of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile and, in its third conclusion, broadens the definition of a refugee to include “persons who have fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order”.

Principle of non-refoulement

  • Article 33C of the 1951 Convention provides for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers from refoulement or forced return to a place where they would be in danger.
  • This principle prohibits states from returning or transferring a person to any place where their life or freedom may be threatened or where they are at risk of persecution.
  • The prohibition on forced return or expulsion covers interception, rejection at the border, and indirect refoulement.
  • This principle does not allow any derogation and must be applied by states at all times, including in “mass influx” situations, such as the displacement of the Venezuelan population across the region.

Temporary protection or stay arrangements

  • These are instruments used to fill gaps in national response systems and capacity when dealing with large influxes of people who need to be protected from refoulement and to receive minimum standards of treatment. 
  • While a migrant regularization programme is a policy implemented by a state in response to the presence of undocumented migrants on its territory and often applies to all nationalities without distinction, a temporary protection arrangement is an extraordinary measure designed to provide immediate protection to displaced persons for a limited period.
  • In the case of Venezuela in particular, the UNHCR has reminded those concerned that such initiatives must meet the requirements of legality, accessibility and recognition of rights. 
  • Legality: These mechanisms and the related requirements and procedures must be set out in national legislation.
  • Accessibility: They must be accessible to all Venezuelans, and applications must be accepted in various locations within the territory. They must not impose limits or deny access on the grounds of:
    • Date of entry into the country;
    • Cost, as there should be no costs;
    • Having entered or staying in the country irregularly;
    • Lack of identity documents.
  • Access to rights, without discrimination, including:
    • Access to healthcare;
    • Access to education;
    • Family unity;
    • Freedom of movement;
    • Access to housing; and
    • The right to work.