No Strangers at the Gate: Collective Responsibility and a Region’s Response to the Venezuelan Refugee and Migration Crisis

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Michael J. Camilleri and Fen Osler Hampson

Venezuela’s political, economic, and humanitarian crisis has given rise to the largest refugee and migration crisis in the history of the Western Hemisphere. A new report — produced by the Dialogue’s Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program and its Venezuela Working Group in partnership with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) at the request of the World Refugee Council — identifies critical gaps in the existing response to the forced displacement of millions of Venezuelans, and presents a plan for bold, coordinated action by the international community.


  • Creatively source funds for humanitarian relief and response. International organizations, national and local governments, and humanitarian groups are straining to meet the basic needs of those fleeing Venezuela. A donors’ conference can provide a budgetary boost in the short term, but the international community must look to creative mechanisms for obtaining long-term support, including private sector financing, seizing the proceeds of Venezuelan corruption, and confiscating criminal assets for redistribution in communities absorbing Venezuelan migrants. 
  • Improve normative and institutional frameworks for protecting migrants and refugees. Despite many Latin American countries’ recognition of the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, institutional frameworks for processing asylum requests are generally weak. In addition to strengthening refugee status determination mechanisms, countries should expand alternative forms of legal stay that allow Venezuelans to regularize their status, as well as eliminate practical barriers to obtaining legal status while balancing security concerns. 
  • Harmonize national mechanisms for alternative legal stay and commit to burden sharing. Many Latin American countries have shown an admirable solidarity toward forcibly displaced Venezuelans, at significant expense. However, there are signs a race to the bottom could emerge, in which countries with the greatest geographic proximity to Venezuela absorb an increasing and unsustainable portion of refugees and migrants. To mitigate this possibility, countries should share responsibility by keeping borders open, establishing common standards for refugee processing, and taking concrete steps to harmonize their refugee and migration policies. Regional policy coordination should begin with a “no backsliding” pledge from major destination countries not to restrict Venezuelan migration in a unilateral manner. 
  • Sustainably protect and integrate incoming Venezuelans. The crisis forcing Venezuelan citizens to flee their country shows no signs of ending, and recipient countries will be hosting growing numbers of Venezuelan migrants and refugees for the foreseeable future.  For the sake of both displaced Venezuelans and the communities that receive them, governments should implement measures to integrate refugees and migrants into society and the formal economy. Such measures include: facilitating labor market entry; combatting exploitation of women and girls; eliminating barriers to education; preventing and countering xenophobia; and ensuring that businesses and civil society, including diaspora groups, form an integral part of policymaking. 
  • Hold Venezuela’s leaders to account. The forced migration crisis stems from sustained policy failures by Venezuela’s leaders, and these failures are now imposing enormous costs on the country’s neighbors. Responses to the refugee and migration crisis should include consideration of accountability for the actions driving the exodus. Asset freezes, targeted sanctions and visa bans—beyond those which have already been implemented—should be considered, alongside national or international prosecutions where appropriate. 

This report is made possible in part thanks to support from the International Development Research Center (IDRC), the Open Society Foundations, and the Ford Foundation.