# The Humanitarian Crisis of Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees

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The crisis of displaced persons from Venezuela should be address from the humanitarian perspective to achieve three objectives: (i) protect the human rights of the Venezuelan migrants and refugees; (ii) facilitate a safe, orderly and regular migration to promote economic growth, and (ii) facilitate the financial international cooperation. Those are the objectives of the recently approved Decree No. 216 of 1 March 2021, issued by the Government of Colombia, and the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted by the United States Government on March 8, 2021. This event presents a multi-disciplinary approach to the crisis of displaced persons from Venezuela considering its current situation in Colombia; its impact on the inclusion of vulnerable sectors; the economic impact of the Venezuelan migration; the Internacional financing of the crisis and the humanitarian standards that should be applied.

Speakers: Lala Lovera, Founder of the NGO "Comparte una Vida" of Colombia, she has been dedicated to the field of social work for more than 15 years. Betilde Muñoz, Director of the Department of Social Inclusion at the Organization of American States. Ana María Ibáñez, Economics Principal Advisor, Inter-American Development Bank and professor at the University of the Andes. Dany Bahar, senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution an associate at the Growth Lab. José Ignacio Hernández G, Fellow at the Growth Lab and professor at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. Moderated by David Smolansky, commissioner of the OAS Secretary-General for the Crisis of Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees.

### Transcript

Jose Ignacio Hernandez: [00:00:04] Well, good morning, everybody, and welcome to this event about The Humanitarian Crisis of Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees and The Temporary Status of Migrant Protections. My name is Jose Ignacio Hernandez and it is a pleasure on behalf of the Growth Lab, to welcome you. I will introduce the moderator of this event, David Smolansky, who is the Commissioner of the Organization of American States for the crisis of Venezuelan migrants and Refugees. David, welcome. [00:00:39][35.2]

David Smolansky: [00:00:42] Thank you so much, Jose Ignacio, and thank you to the Harvard Growth Lab for organizing this very important seminar about the humanitarian crisis of Venezuelan migrants and refugees and the temporary status of migrant protections. The Venezuelan refugee crisis is the largest in the history of the region and projects to be the largest in the world, surpassing Syria. At the moment of this conference, 5.5 million Venezuelans have fled their country because of shortages of food, shortages of medicine, human rights violation, crimes against humanity, general violence, lack of services and the collapse of the economy. This unprecedented outflow has created so many challenges in the region from Colombia, with 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees, to Peru with one million Venezuelan migrants and refugees, to Mexico with more than 100,00, to the US with more than 400,000. But apart from the challenges, it has created plenty of opportunities for the receiving countries. So to discuss these challenges and these opportunities, it's an honor for me to moderate this great panel with experts from different areas that during the last years in their roles have been addressing this refugee crisis. With us will be today Lala Lovera which is the founder of the NGO Comparte Una Vida. She has been working in Colombia for more than 15 years. Betilde Munoz, a colleague from the Organization of American States, is the director of the Department of Social Inclusion at the OAS, it's an honor for me to present her. Ana Maria Ibanez, Economics Principal Adviser of the Inter-American Development Bank. And Mr. Dany Bahar who is a senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development Program at the Brookings Institution and Associate at the Growth Lab. Thank you all for being here and for making time on your busy agenda to have this seminar and thanks Jose Ignacio, also for making this possible. Jose Ignacio Hernandez is a fellow at the Growth Lab, and Professor at Universidad Catolica Andres Bello, of course, will be with us during the whole seminar today. So with that, I'll give the floor to Lala Lovera. Every speaker will have 10 minutes. Please be respectful of time. After everyone has their ten minutes, we have a discussion for 30 minutes where we're going to answer some questions from the audience and also questions that I've been preparing after the presentation of the panel. So with that, I give the floor to Lala. Thank you. [00:04:00][197.6]

David Smolansky: [00:17:17] You got your ten minutes, Lala. Very good. Thank you so much for sharing that very interesting slide and your presentation. And so next will be with us Betilde Munoz, as I said the Director of the Department of Social Inclusion at the Organization of American States. Betilde, the floor is yours. [00:17:34][17.2]

Dany Bahar: [00:44:22] Hi, everyone, thank you for those great... It's hard to follow up on all those great presentations, but I'll give it a try. So I think my Internet is not great, so I don't know if you're not hearing me, just move your hands or something so that I'll know. I'll speak slow and I'll keep it short just because of that. So I think I'm going to speak more in general from the economics perspective, maybe following up on on the excellent, magnificent story of Ana Maria and her coauthors. And let me start by saying again what David said at the beginning, which which I think it's important to let this sink in. This is the largest migration and refugee crisis in the history of the hemisphere and as of today, it's the second largest migration and refugee crisis in modern history. Definitely I mean, in the last decades, definitely since World War Two. And, you know, we need to let that sink in. This is not... it is like a massive, massive movement of people in our region. And I think Jose Ignacio can speak to this in a region that was not prepared to experience this movement of people. Ironically, the country in the region that was prepared and had a history of receiving immigrants was Venezuela for decades and now the tables have turned and all the other countries didn't really have, you know, the basic legislation to deal with this huge crisis. And, you know, comparing these, I'm not going to make a very thorough comparison with the Syrian crisis because, you know, different context, different regions. I mean, it's really comparing apples to elephants, not even apples to oranges. But there are a few things that I think are worth mentioning on the differences that we see. The first one is also something that it's very moving, but it also it's a reality, despite all the issues that we've been hearing from the great presentation from Lala and Betica and all the hurdles we see, I think it is.. in the big scheme of things, I think it's important to see that the countries in the region are at least trying to some extent to... are willing to deal with the proper policies to really benefit from this opportunity differently and say this in contrast to perhaps many European countries dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis or even Turkey or to some extent, Jordan and Lebanon. So I think we see here an interesting phenomenon that it's going to go for research in the future on why Latin American countries have been at least willing, not perfectly far from perfect, but at least willing to engage in a way that could convert this into an opportunity. And this is really important because they've been doing this on their own for the most part, and when I mean on their own, I'm talking in particular about the resources that are typically hugely important to deal with this massive crisis. And I think part of the reason I'm here today with you is because a story that we published a couple of years ago and we updated earlier this year on the vast differences that when you compare the Venezuelan refugee crisis with others, you do see a huge disparity, huge disparity in the resources of the international community that are going to the countries in the region. And we did that calculation. It's online on the Brookings website. But just to give you the headline is that when you take you look at all the money that that has been committed in terms of aid and assistance from the international community to the countries in the region. And you compare that, for instance, to all the money that has been committed from international assistance to other crisis. You know, the Venezuelan refugee crisis is, as David said at the beginning, it's on its way to be the largest refugee crisis in modern history. But it's also by far the most underfunded crisis in modern history. And the numbers are clear when we look at resources per refugee. In the case of Syria, we see about more than $3,000 have gone per refugee from the international community, whereas in the case of Venezuela, the number is less than three hundred. So it's more than a tenfold difference. And this is crucially important because despite all the difficulties that despite the fact that these countries in the region were not prepared for this massive flow, and despite that, they're trying to do their best and they're doing a lot of mistakes. They're doing this essentially without any help from the international community. And this help is crucial. It's crucial in the very short term for humanitarian reasons. I mean, there's people, as it was said before, you know, people at the Venezuelan situation, it's complex. And if you look at any socioeconomic indicator of Venezuela today, you would think that you're talking about a country that is in civil war by any means. All of this, of any socio-economic indicator you take from Venezuela, it's comparable to the worst-performing countries in the world after having gone through some sort of conflict. So a lot of these refugees, if not most of them, are coming with huge humanitarian needs. They're coming undernourished. They need medical assistance. They need a place to stay. And these funds have to go first and foremost to help the humanitarian aspect. But it's not only that, it shouldn't stop there. And for the past few years, I've been calling on the fact that these resources are critical for labor integration. And I think that this follows up on Ana Maria's point because, and I'm going to talk about this in a couple of minutes, but the funding is not only for humanitarian needs, it's also to assure that these immigrants are integrating into their local economies and as such, allowing them to reach their full potential. So let me just talk about that for a few minutes and then I'll stop. I want to say that the conditions for a proper integration of these Venezuelan's into the local labor force are there. In the sense that if you look at the data and look in particular data from Colombia. But I'm pretty certain that this applies to all the other countries, when you look at the Venezuelans that have arrived to Colombia, they are on average younger than the local labor force and on average, much more, not much more, slightly more educated. So there is huge potential for them to integrate into the local labor forces in a way that could really bring important benefits. But many of these Venezuelans, as we know, has said before there they have an undocumented status. They don't have a, quote-unquote, legal status in the country. And the first step and I think that what Ana Maria just showed is, you know, it makes it pretty obvious to all of us. The first step is to provide them with papers so they will be able to join the labor force. And Ana Maria has shown that this has important benefits to the migrant themselves. And here, of course, Betica mentioned Colombia, who just passed a project to give an amnesty to 1.8 million Venezuelans out of which one million are undocumented for a 10 year status. And Betica also mentioned Costa Rica. And there are other less generous, but there are other measures being taken in the region. But it's not only there. It's not only that. I mean, providing the legal status, providing documents, it's hugely important. This is a binding constraint. But it has to go beyond that because, you know, finding a job is hard. It's hard for all of us. Right. I mean, you need to know people. You need to maybe have the time to look for a better match. And, you know, many of us I can speak for myself, I think, but maybe many of us are privileged and have the time to wait and perhaps have some resources to make it happen. You know, for refugees, it's even harder. So this is important. I just have a couple of minutes to finish. I'm going to say something else. The reason that this... You know, beyond giving the status, the reason that the funding is crucially important, it's because whenever you have such an inflow of people into an economy, there's a lot of fear that maybe if they all get jobs, salaries are going to go down, unemployment is going to increase. And in a paper, joint with Ana Maria and Sandra Rosa, who's one of the best Colombian economists. Both are some of the best Colombian economists. We together show that in the first round of amnesties, the one that Ana Maria was talking, there was no... zero effect on the local labor market. So there's really no big evidence to fear that providing access to the labor markets is going to result in negative effects. But I want to go back to the point I made about funding and with this I'll stop. The importance of funding is not only about humanitarian assistance, it's about labor market integration, because the only way that firms, the private sector will be able to integrate and to bring on Venezuelans and Colombians, or Venezuelans and Chileans, or Venezuelans and Argentinians, or Venezuelans and Bolivians, and Ecuadorians, is going to be through the private sector and through the expansion of the private sector. So it's important that a lot of this funding will also go to infrastructure. It will go to credits to small firms and medium firms that can expand, they can hire people because in other countries, in Latin American countries, these are things that are, regardless of immigration, are already lagging behind. So when we think about funding is not only about humanitarian, it's also crucial for labor market integration. I'll stop here. I was told by somebody that I look like a lawyer that I said, I'm going to speak shortly and I spoke for long... [00:56:07][705.6] David Smolansky: [00:56:12] Thank you Dany for your presentation. And in talking about lawyers. Now, we're going to have one speaking it's Dr. Jose Ignacio Hernandez, Fellow at the Growth Lab and Professor at the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello, my alma mater by the way, of Caracas, Venezuela. So Jose Ignacio, floor is yours. [00:56:30][18.6] Jose Ignacio Hernandez: [00:56:32] Thank you so much, David. It's a pleasure again to be here. And after these wonderful presentations, I'm going to summarize how humanitarian law can facilitate the global balance of the Venezuelan humanitarian displacement crisis. There are three main problems regarding the Venezuelan massive displacement crisis, the first one is how to assure humanitarian standards of protection, including and I would say particularly the non-refoulment right. That is, as we all know, a problem that has been present, for instance, in Trinidad and Tobago, with several problems there. The second is how to promote an orderly and secure migration as a favorable condition for economic growth. And finally, how to coordinate multilateral policies, particularly in financing, as Dany explained. And the main problem that we have from an institutional perspective or from a legal perspective, is that the international law does not provide a clear framework to address a unique crisis like the Venezuelan, because there are too many concepts. We have the concept of migrants that is basically based on labor permits and residence. We then have the traditional concept story of refugees, according to the 1951 Convention that is based on particular cases of persecution. Then we have in the Inter-American System of Human Rights in 1948t Cartagena Declaration that expanded the refugee to cover cases of political, economic and social crisis. Then we also have the Refugee prima facie, which is basically temporary protection for refugees in massive crisis. And finally, according to the 2016 New York Declaration and the 2018 Global Pact, we have this idea of global mobilizations. In any case, uncommon problems require uncommon solutions. And this is the example of the Decree Number 216 enacted by the government of Colombia. This is an pragmatical approach, an uncommon solution, but in my opinion solves most of the problems that I referred to. First, the decree recognizes human rights standards of protections based on international humanitarian law. And this is very important that we frame the Venezuelan situation as a humanitarian crisis. However, the decree does not declare the refugee status, not even prima facie. But this is not relevant because at the end, from a pragmatical approach, that decree recognize the humanitarian standard of protections that are usefully related to the refugee status, particularly the decree allows residence rights that could promote an orderly and secure migration is a favorable condition for economic growth. But however, only regarding Venezuelans and displacing Colombia as of January 31, 2021. But there are some problems that the decree does not solve. First of all, the decree is a unilateral decision but the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela should be addressed from a multilateral approach. Basically two and three objectives. First, coordinate international financing. And this is something that I have been discussing deeply with Dany and David. Second, coordinate policies aimed to address the complex humanitarian emergencies because the Venezuelan displacement is a flaw. Eventually, the capacity of the host state, in this case, Colombia, may collapse if the humanitarian crisis is not solved. And Lala explains very well this situation of the pendular movement. So because we are talking about the flow of migrants and not only are stuck, it is necessary to solve the main cause of the migration crisis in Venezuela, which is the complex humanitarian emergency. This is why, in my opinion, the Venezuelan crisis should be framed as a humanitarian displacement crisis caused by the complex humanitarian emergency in Venezuela and the collapse of the state. And only a multilateral approach based on international human rights can solve the main three problems that I refer. First, recognizing human rights standards of protection of migrants, particularly in all of the region. Second, promote an orderly, secure migration as a favorable condition for economic growth, as was explained very well by Ana Maria Ibanez. And finally promote multilateral cooperation to solve the complex humanitarian emergency and the humanitarian displacement crisis, particularly regarding the finance problem. And now we have another issue here that should be mentioned that, as we all know, Latin America is facing, according to the recent macroeconomic report of the Inter-American Development Bank, the biggest recession since independence. And therefore, Latin American countries are facing several problems in terms of fiscal space. So in order to fulfill the humanitarian standards to protect Venezuelan displaced people, it is necessary to expand the public space. And for that purpose, it is necessary to find a comprehensive financial solution. Otherwise, the Venezuelan crisis will become a regional one with impact in all of the hemisphere. And just to finalize, I want to recall a basic statement of the 2016 New York Declaration that I think summarized the new trends regarding migration, refugees, mobilizations. "Large movement of refugees and migrants have political, economic, social development, humanitarian and human rights ramifications which cross all borders. These are global phenomena that call for a global approach and global solutions. No one state can manage such movement on its own." Not Colombia cannot manage the Venezuelan crisis on its own and only a global solution based on a regional approach, and we have the support of the Organization of American States for that purpose, will solve in a comprehensive way the Venezuelan migration and refugee crisis. Thank you so much. [01:03:47][435.8] David Smolansky: [01:03:52] Thank you, Jose Ignacio. So with that presentation, we are going to start the discussion. We have approximately twenty six minutes. So if you want to make questions please share with us on the chat. I know that some of you has already done some questions, and I would like first before going to questions from the audience. I'll start this question with some comments and also questions after listening to all of you the work, great presentations on how you presented different sensitive and relevant topics for Venezuelan migrants and refugees. We have been talking here about the importance of their documentation and being realized the lack of funds, the pendular migration that Lala explained, the challenges that the region has with a discrimination and xenophobia that unfortunately we have seen more and more xenophobia against some Venezuelans. And so Ana Maria, I was looking at your slides on the welfare that have been improved for migrants, specifically where they have gotten PEP in Colombia and something similar also happened in Peru with the PDP. So in what sense do you think the PEP for Venezuelans in Colombia would impact the economy of Colombia and also how the US, for example, could be benefited for Venezuelans taking the TPS? Because one of the things that we always think when TPS or PEP in Colombia are announced, that only the Venezuelans are the ones who are getting the benefit. They're the ones who are getting the documentation. There are regular, but also there could be this could be a great benefit for the receiving countries in the long term. So that would be great if you can speak a little bit about it after what you showed on the PEP. [01:06:24][151.8] Ana Maria Ibanez: [01:06:28] Thank you, David. Yes, when we were doing this study, we never imagined that Colombia was going to do this. And what our study shows right now is that definitely the PEP really created benefits for the Venezuelan migrants, however, and I did not discuss that because I didn't have enough time. We also find a lot of obstacles for that benefit to be completely full. There are a lot of obstacles and red tape procedures that do not allow the migrants to get really into formal labor markets or create firms. And so if Colombia wants to reap the long term benefits, it really needs to go into the nitty gritty details that are also important as well. I mean, the decree's, it's good, it's important. But the details, the devil sometimes is in the details and that is important. That's the first thing that I wanted to say. The second thing that's important from this data is that PEP is only for two years. So migrants really have to renew it each two years. And in economic terms, that's not good. You don't have enough certainty. You're not going to invest as much as you would have if you have a longer temporal timeline. So by providing them 10 years and telling them, look, this is a first step so you can become citizens or you can have a permanent visa, it gives them a timeline to really make decisions in the long term. Having said that, of course, this is going to ignite a lot of work from the government of Colombia and a lot of investments. So what I believe it's important is, as I said in the presentation, that now the government knows where the migrants are located and that is important not only for the purposes of the migrant and investment on the migrants, but invest on the local populations that are receiving those migrants and may be experiencing short term costs in order for them to really have the long term benefits of younger people, more educated people going into the labor force and willing to invest in the country and to be part of the Colombian society. So this is a first step is my last message. You really need to get that with a lot of other things that need to be done for the local population and to really improve the implementation of these programs. [01:08:58][149.8] David Smolansky: [01:08:59] Thanks, Ana Maria. Before going to two questions and comments from the audience, Dany, you were saying that it's a huge step in the documentation for Venezuelan migrants and refugees, but of course, there's more to be done and specifically the integration of labor market. So what's your advice, a bit of advice to a president in the region on saying, "OK, you are implementing the PEP or sorry the TPS in Colombia or now the CPP in Peru or actually the declaration that has been passed in Brazil." After that, how you could do better to integrate Venezuelan migrants and refugees on the labor markets. And also would like to ask you and I know you and I have spoken of this many times, but it is important to raise awareness, why the Syrian refugee crisis has been able to raise more funds or even other crises, such as the South Sudanese refugee crisis, that does not have the same number of refugees as Venezuela, but even though they have been able to raise more funds than the Venezuelan refugee crisis? And this is very important because there is an international solidarity conference to address the Venezuelan migration refugee crisis on June 17th, which Canada is leading this important effort. It is the third conference. And now with COVID-19 we are expecting to have more pledges from the country, but we will see what would happen. Thanks. [01:10:29][89.4] Dany Bahar: [01:10:36] Good questions. It's hard, I'm going to try to answer very quickly just because of time, but, you know, I remain with the point I was trying to make maybe fast at the end that I think that despite you know on top of all the regularization efforts and providing with the legal paperwork for people to work and to create firms and all the things that that are not perfect. But we have to continue to push. It's crucially important to invest and to find the funding and the world to give the funding to these countries, to invest in local infrastructure, to invest in credits for small and medium firms, to be able to expand and hire these workers. And Colombia, again, we're talking about Colombia. I talk about Colombia a lot because is the country that I got more data from and Colombia had a great program of expansion of giving$200,000,000 of credit lines to firms in the regions where most Venezuelans have arrived. And I think that this a great example. First of all, it's Economics 101, right? If you have a huge inflow of people, you also want to compensate that with a huge inflow of capital so that at the end there's no negative effect whatsoever on the country. There's positive effects, which would you only get if you bring complementary resources such as capital. So that would be, I think, the basic thing. The other thing I want to say, because we're at the Harvard Growth Lab, and the best place to say this is that, you know, this is a blessing. I mean, despite all the terrible things that are happening to Venezuela, this Venezuelan refugee crisis is going to be the key to the reconstruction of Venezuela. Because the more these people integrate, the best they perform, the more technologies and knowledge and experience and management they get from many different industries around the continent, the more they excel, the more they're going to bring back that knowledge and that technology back to Venezuela after when it's time to reconstruct the country. And that's going to be the key to the diversification of the country, to a strong economy that grows for everybody. Last on your question on why is it that, you know, Venezuelans are not getting as much funding? You know, I'm not a political scientist, but I'm... Sorry about this, but the point I want to make is that, you know, that there's one big difference, that on one end of the spectrum of the receiving countries in the Syrian crisis, you have rich countries. In Latin America and, you know, in the case of the Venezuelan refugee crisis, you don't have rich countries on the receiving end. You have countries that are middle income or poor to middle income and so on. So they don't have the resources. And there's no pressure from, let's say, what happens in Syria. I think a lot of European countries are giving a lot of money to Turkey and Jordan and Lebanon so that they will keep and I forget the right word, but that they will keep the refugee crisis within those limits. Now, yesterday or this week was announced also a huge. this is sensitive, but a huge package of, I think, \$4,000,000,000 from USAID to deal with the Northern Triangle refugee crisis. Well, that's maybe another example that those numbers are much, much, much higher than what you've seen in the region. So that's kind of the geopolitics of it. [01:14:18][222.4]