Venezuela

With Venezuela in chaos, asylum petitions have tripled. Most seek refuge in U.S.

The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum tripled from 2015 to 2016, as the once-wealthy nation continues to be trapped in a punishing economic, social and political crisis.

According to a United Nations report released Monday, some 34,200 Venezuelans sought asylum in 2016 — up from 10,200 claims the previous year.

Of those asylum applicants, 18,300 sought refuge in the United States.

Read More: Seeking fresh start, Venezuelans flee by boat, plane and foot

The Venezuelan exodus is notable because for decades the South American country had been a destination for refugees attracted by its thriving, oil-rich economy and welcoming immigration policies.

In 2016, the nation was still home to more than 172,000 people (primarily Colombians fleeing decades of violence) who were living there under "refugee-like conditions," according to the report, called "Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2016" and put out by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Francesca Fontanini, a spokeswoman with UNHCR, said that in the last year there had been a "significant increase" in Venezuelan asylum seekers in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico.

Read More: Rights groups seek legal escape hatch for troubled Venezuela

What the report doesn't reflect are the massive numbers of Venezuelans moving abroad for economic reasons who don’t apply for asylum.

According to a UN estimate from 2015, there were some 606,344 Venezuelans living abroad, more than half of them in the United States.

U.S. asylum seekers

In total, the United States received 262,000 new asylum applications in 2016, up 52 percent from the previous year and double from 2014. That puts it second only to Germany (722,400) in terms of new claims. And it was followed by Italy (123,000) and Turkey (78,600).

Of those applying for asylum in the United States, 52 percent were from Mexico and Central America. The most common country of origin was El Salvador with 121,200 applications, followed by Mexico (27,900), Guatemala (25,700), China (19,900) and Honduras (19,500).

When it comes to refugees, however, Colombia continues to be the hemisphere's trouble spot.

According to the report, as of 2016, there were some 7.7 million Colombians who were forcibly displaced. Those are cumulative numbers dating back to 1985, though, and don't fully capture the huge strides in security the country has made in the last decade.

Even so, that makes Colombia second only to Syria in the number of displaced people.

Follow Jim Wyss on Twitter @jimwyss

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