With over 7.13 million refugees and migrants, the Venezuelan refugee crisis has become the largest external displacement of people in the history of the western hemisphere. Most of the refugees flee from economic hardships and political corruption that’s plagued Venezuela for over 10 years.
Thankfully, many state and non-governmental organizations have stepped in to help out with the crisis. The largest contributor to the humanitarian response, however, is the U.S. State Department. Through its various branches, the State Department gives aid to the refugees, helping to heal the divide between the U.S. and Venezuela.
The origins of Venezuela’s crisis began long before the last few years. Arguably, they go all the way back to when investors found large oil reserves in the country in the 1920s. While their economy grew exponentially due to this discovery, it resulted in an increasing reliance on oil.
Years later, President Hugo Chavez utilized the nation’s oil wealth to expand social services, but also greatly expand his presidential powers to near-dictatorial levels. This is partly responsible for Venezuela’s consistent ranking as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro took power in 2014 and continued to enact corrupt policies while consolidating more presidential power. At the same time, the price of oil declined sharply and the Venezuelan economy declined with it, according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
Since then, the people of Venezuela have faced an extreme lack of economic opportunity, food scarcity, lack of medical resources, crime and lack of proper housing, giving rise to the Venezuelan refugee crisis. At the same time, they have continually tried and failed to oust their corrupt government from power. Because of all this, millions of migrants and refugees have fled to neighboring countries and other parts of the world.
State Department Aid
Though relations between the government of the U.S. and Venezuela have soured, the State Department is still intent on helping Venezuelans both within their own country and living abroad as refugees.
Since 2017, the U.S. State Department has given more than $2 billion in aid towards the Venezuelan crisis, making it the largest donor in the world. The State Department works through two separate agencies to assist Venezuelans. These are the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), which is a subsidiary of the State Department itself, while the other is USAID.
PRM primarily focuses on supporting refugees living outside of Venezuela. Its work helps provide a range of essential services including shelter, health care, water, sanitation, hygiene, education and more. Workers distribute this aid in 17 countries throughout South America, Central America and the Caribbean. PRM also utilizes refugee coordinators to work diplomatically with local government officials.
By contrast, USAID is more focused on helping Venezuelans in Venezuela with the same kind of necessary support PRM provides. However, it also assists refugees living in neighboring countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Thankfully, the U.S. government affirmed its continued support for Venezuelan refugees at the ninth Summit of the Americas in June 2022. There, President Biden announced an additional $314 million in aid to Venezuelan refugees scattered throughout the western hemisphere.
The aid funding goes to both PRM and USAID with the former receiving $103 million and the latter receiving $171 million. An additional $40 million for development was also given to USAID.
And though much work between the U.S. and Venezuela has helped millions of refugees, there is a need for continued action. With time and effort, the State Department’s latest round of aid could alleviate much of the suffering. And if the U.S. and other governments continue to give crucial humanitarian assistance, there is hope that one day, Venezuela’s refugee crisis will be a thing of the past.