Latin America Needs To Get Serious About The Venezuelan Exodus

The flood of people fleeing Venezuela's dire economic and political situation is more than any one country can handle. But so far, there's been little effort to organize a coordinated reaction.

Migrants crossing the border between Venezuela and Colombia
Migrants crossing the border between Venezuela and Colombia
Arlene B. Tickner


BOGOTÁ From Colombia to Ecuador and Chile, to diminutive Caribbean islands with little space to spare, Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) states have had to take on unimaginable numbers of Venezuelans since 2015.

Indeed, the region is witnessing one of the biggest, if not the biggest, migratory movement in its history. And, despite the best intentions of certain mechanisms adopted to attend to these migrants and provide for basic needs like lodging, healthcare, education and work, the size of the flux — 2.3 million, according to UN estimates — is beyond the capacities of any country.

The Venezuelan exodus is not only testing the tradition of solidarity and hospitality that has marked the LAC when contending with past cases of forced displacements, violence, and even economic migration, but also their specific commitments within the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, which is more generous than the 1951 UN Convention in how it confers refugee status.


Venezuelan refugees on the streets of Colombia — Photo: Provea

Instead of open arms, we're seeing a rise in deportations and border militarization. Some countries are doing away with special residence permits and imposing impossible documentation requirements. And, in many places, there's been an uptick in xenophobic reactions in general.

While the crisis is shouting out for a multilateral response and international help, these have been lukewarm so far. The Organization of American States (OAS) is an obvious space for dealing with this, but the humanitarian crisis is so enmeshed with Venezuela's internal political context that it has been impossible to forge a consensus within the regional body.

Indeed, the region is witnessing one of the biggest, if not the biggest, migratory movement in its history.

Of all the OAS members, Colombia — given its proximity to Venezuela and the outsized portion of the refugees it is receiving — should be leading a collective response to the crisis. And yet, its new ambassador to the OAS, the very conservative former inspector-general Alejandro Ordoñez, is hardly the ideal person to take such an initiative. Keep in mind, too, that Colombia withdrew from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR in Spanish), another possible forum for debating the problem.

The international community outside the region, including the United States and European Union, is also paying little attention to the issue, especially compared to other migratory crises such as the those of Syria and the Mediterranean. Not that the response given to those crises, marked mainly by a closure of borders to migrants (with exceptions, such as Germany), is worthy of emulation.

UN bodies such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are working with LAC countries to devise comprehensive tools to attend to this mass migration. So far, however, the allocated budgets are lacking.

In the meantime, there are reasons to think that, rather than stabilizing or diminishing, the Venezuelan exodus will only grow. If that's the case, the humanitarian crisis will expand along with it, threatening regional states, in turn, with socio-economic and political destabilization.

These are all things the LAC countries and the international community need to urgently take into account. And yet, given the absence of functioning regional institutions or leadership, it seems likely instead that we'll see just more inertia, indifference, and ad-hoc measures.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!