The solution to the Venezuelan migration crisis — where more than four million people have fled in recent years — appears simple: Oust leader Nicolás Maduro.
According to a poll of Venezuelans who have already left the nation, 65 percent said they would return if the international community helped broker new elections. And 79 percent said they would go home if Maduro, who has been in power since 2013, was replaced by an opponent.
But all of the scenarios where Maduro and his allies cling to power were vehemently rejected, according to the study released Monday as part of an initiative by Tent Partnership for Refugees and the Inter-American Development Bank that aims to mobilize the private sector in favor of Venezuelan migrants.
If Maduro, 56, stays in power but the Venezuelan economy improves, 14 percent said they would return. If he were to step down and be replaced by an ideological ally, 15 percent said they would go home. And if Venezuela were to have a coalition government — formed by Maduro allies and those close to National Assembly President Juan Guaidó — only 13 percent would return.
Washington and more than 50 other nations consider Guaidó, 36, the country’s legitimate leader and accuse Maduro of staying in power through fraudulent elections in 2018. But Maduro claims that last year’s vote gives him the right to run the struggling nation through 2025.
Mark Feierstein, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama and National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, worked on the poll, which surveyed 600 Venezuelans in Colombia and Peru, the top destinations for Venezuelan migrants.
With no clear path for Maduro’s ouster, Feierstein said the survey underscores the need to prepare for the long haul.
“I think international agencies, [non-governmental organizations] and the private sector need to be treating this as a long-term challenge,” he said. “This is not just about providing food and medicine for a few months and then they will return.”
And it’s also clear that the crisis will get worse before it gets better. Almost 60 percent of those surveyed said they planned to bring family members out of Venezuela to join them. And when asked what advice they were giving to others in Venezuela, 50 percent of those in Colombia and 53 percent of those in Peru said they were telling people to leave.
The Organization of American States estimates that, absent deep political changes, as many as eight million Venezuelans might be living abroad by the end of 2020.
Monday’s poll — one of the few conducted within the Venezuelan diaspora — also provides a glimpse into how tough life is for migrants. More than 26 percent said they faced xenophobia in the workplace and more than 18 percent said they had been robbed. In addition, at least 11 percent of Venezuelans in Colombia said they were victims of harassment and physical abuse by the military or the community. (Those numbers were negligible in Peru.)
Also, more than 55 percent said they were underpaid or not paid at all, and more than 40 percent said they worked excessive hours.
Felipe Muñoz, advisor to the Colombian president on the border crisis, said the private sector has to play a larger role in helping Venezuelans integrate.
Many migrants are highly educated with in-demand skills but aren’t using their abilities in the workplace. It’s not uncommon to find petroleum engineers and nurses selling candy and coffee on the streets of Colombia’s capital.
While Colombia has issued more than 600,000 temporary work permits to the estimated 1.4 million Venezuelan migrants who live there, “it has been a huge challenge” to fully integrate those people into the workforce, Muñoz said.
“I’m not sure the private sector truly understands ... that this can be an opportunity for them,” he said.
The results of the study were presented on Monday as Tent Partnership and the IDB brought together 20 major companies that have pledged to hire refugees, support migrant entrepreneurs, and make vital goods and services accessible to them.
“There is an urgent need to integrate migrants into their new host economies,” IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno said in a statement. “Private companies have an important role to play, both as service providers and employers who can harness the skills migrants bring to benefit local economies.”
Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of the Tent Partnership for Refugees and CEO of Chobani, said “refugee passion and perseverance is just waiting to be unlocked. When given the chance, they will make your companies stronger, smarter and faster. But it’s up to us to open the door and provide the opportunity for human dignity.”
Among the companies that pledged to generate jobs and support Venezuelan entrepreneurship were Airbnb, Telefonica, Teleperformance and Accenture.
Muñoz said these types of initiatives are urgent as host countries like his are facing increased financial strain. Even though the percentage of Venezuelans in Colombia remains quite low “we are seeing that [Colombian] citizen support for our policies of integration is declining,” he said.
While Colombia is the top destination for Venezuelan migrants, it’s not their first choice. Venezuelans said their top potential destinations were Chile (31 percent), Argentina (20 percent), Peru (8 percent), Ecuador (7 percent) and Panama (5 percent).
Only 3 percent said they hoped to go to the United States — on par with Brazil and Spain.