A series of reports highlight how rampant crime and insecurity have spurred Venezuelans to leave their home country, a perhaps overlooked driver of migration amid the country's ongoing economic crisis that has left food shelves and medicine cabinets bare.
Some 2.5 million Venezuelans are currently living abroad, according to a 2016 study by the International Laboratory of Migration. Ivan De la Vega, the laboratory's director and a professor at the Simón Bolívar University, said that more than half of these Venezuelan migrants had left the country as a direct result of a robbery or an assault, or due to the violent death of a family member, reported El Nacional.
The academic also highlighted the exponential growth in migration from the South American country; according to the laboratory's data, the 2.5 million figure represents more than 8 percent of the country's population. In contrast, just 50,000 Venezuelans were living abroad in 1992.
Earlier surveys had shown that an estimated 58 percent of immigrants had left due to insecurity in 2010, a figure that rose to 68 percent in 2013, reported Noticias Venezuela. A study by another investigator from the Simón Bolívar University conducted in 2015 and 2016 showed that insecurity was the principal motive for individuals between the ages of 25 and 35 to leave the country in 70 percent of the surveyed cases.
It's important to keep in mind that these figures are estimates and could be significantly off. Citing data from the World Bank, the website Venezuela Analysis estimated that slightly under 1 million Venezuelans left to live abroad between 1999 and 2016. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas puts the number at somewhere between 1.2 and 1.5 million.
It is nonetheless evident that Venezuelans are abandoning their native country in numbers rarely seen before, and the recent surveys suggest crime is a major factor in people's decision to leave. There were an estimated 28,479 violent deaths in Venezuela last year, making it one of the most violent nations in the world. Law and order has largely ceased to function, giving rise to a huge increase in the number of reported lynchings last year.
Venezuela's security crisis has been overshadowed by the country's even more severe economic crisis, which is also driving people out of the country in droves. In 2016, the New York Times reported that 150,000 Venezuelans had fled the previous year due in large part to the economic crisis. And an estimated 10,000 Venezuelans enter the town Brazilian border town of Pacaraima every month in search for food, according to The Washington Post.
Widespread corruption within the military, which is now in charge of food distribution in Venezuela, has exacerbated the shortages. Many of the few available products are being diverted to the black market by corrupt elements of the military and sold at exorbitant prices. In fact, the US government is considering sanctions against high-ranking Venezuelan officials following an Associated Press report revealing the extent of food trafficking by the Venezuelan military.