(CNN) — More than 6 million Venezuelans have fled their country amid deteriorating living conditions, matching Ukraine in the number of displaced people and surpassing Syria, according to the United Nations.
The refugee crisis in Venezuela is surprising because there is no war in the country like in Ukraine, where the ongoing conflict has driven people out of the country.
There are about 6.8 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants scattered around the world, according to the United Nations refugee agency, a figure similar to the 6.8 million refugees from Ukraine. There are some 6.6 million refugees from Syria.
“The United Nations confirmed that the number of displaced Venezuelans reached 6.8 million people, tying with Ukraine for the world’s largest refugee and migrant crisis, and surpassing Syria for the first time,” said Rachel Schmidtke, lead advocate for Refugees International for Latin America, in a statement.
But “although the number of Venezuelans and Ukrainians forced to leave their homes is now more or less the same, the international response is not,” Schmidtke added.
“This year, donors have only funded 13 percent of the humanitarian response plan for Venezuelans, while Ukraine’s response plan has received nearly five times the amount of support,” he said.
Deteriorating economic conditions, food shortages and limited access to health care are increasingly pushing Venezuelans to leave, and a growing Venezuelan community in the United States is also a draw, Doris Meissner previously told CNN. who directs US immigration policy work at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington.
In July, the US Border Patrol apprehended 17,603 Venezuelan migrants on the US-Mexico border, an increase since June, according to the latest data available from the agency. Venezuelans have also been arriving in Washington and New York City on buses chartered by the state of Texas. They often seek political asylum.
Authorities can return migrants under a pandemic-driven Trump-era rule known as Title 42, but it doesn’t apply to everyone. The public health authority allows border officials to quickly expel migrants to Mexico, but there are limits on the nationalities that can be returned.
That, added to the coldness of relations with countries like Venezuela, prevents the US from removing certain people, which means they could be released while they go through immigration processes.
The flow of people north presents a challenge to US President Joe Biden, making it a major issue discussed between him and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Biden Administration officials have been monitoring the increased movement of migrants in the region for months. Many migrants traveling north held informal jobs before the COVID-19 pandemic and were especially vulnerable to falling into extreme poverty as economies tightened, while others are fleeing violence and political instability.
The migrants often pass through a dangerous jungle, known as the Darien Gap, which straddles the borders of Panama and Colombia, on their way to the US.
A Venezuelan family who spoke to CNN after arriving in Washington on Wednesday called the journey across the Darien Gap treacherous but said they fled to the United States for safety and work.