U.N. estimates two million more Venezuelans will flee their homeland in 2019

The United Nations is expecting at least 2 million more Venezuelans to flee their country in 2019, as the hemisphere’s largest migratory crisis continues to accelerate.

In a report filed Friday in Geneva by the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration, the organizations said they were projecting that at least 5.4 million Venezuelans would be living abroad by the end of next year — up from current estimates of 3.3 million. If the numbers prove accurate, it would mean that about 17 percent of the country’s population has left in recent years amid a dramatic economic collapse.

The projections come as the UNHCR and IOM launched a “Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan” to aid fleeing Venezuelans on Friday. The plan — the first of its kind in the Americas — is trying to coordinate the efforts of 95 organizations in 16 countries to provide aid to the migrants. The organizations are also asking for $738 million in financing in hopes of providing assistance to 2.2 million Venezuelans and 500,000 people in the host communities.

Eduardo Stein, the joint UNHCR-IOM special representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, said Venezuelans are fleeing their home due to hunger, insecurity and lack of access to basic medical care.

“They are families, women alone, children, young boys and girls, all in conditions of extreme vulnerability,” he said in a statement. “All of them saw no other option than to leave their country — sometimes walking for days — seeking to live in dignity and build a future.”

While Venezuelan migration began in earnest in 2014, it has been accelerating in recent years as Venezuela’s economy continues to crumble and hopes fade that President Nicolás Maduro will ever cede power. The United Nations says that, on average, 5,500 people are leaving the country every day. The vast majority are heading to neighboring Colombia, which is home to more than 1 million Venezuelans, but almost every nation in the region has seen the impact of Venezuelan migration.

Islands in the Caribbean, in particular, have said they fear being overwhelmed by the influx.

Of the 5.4 million migrants expected by the end of 2019, “some 3.6 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela in Latin America and the Caribbean, 460,000 of them children, will be in need of assistance, including protection, with no prospects for return in the short-to-medium term,” the U.N. report found.

The United States has earmarked more than $95 million in aid to Colombia, Brazil and other host nations to deal with the Venezuelan crisis since fiscal year 2017. On Thursday, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill that would allow some Venezuelans to stay in the United States for up to 18 months under Temporary Protected Status.

Maduro has accused the international community of exaggerating the exodus in order to destabilize his administration. In power since 2013, Maduro will begin a new six-year term on Jan. 10, even as more than three dozen nations, including the United States, have said they will not recognize his administration.