Iceland Struggles to Take in Surge of Venezuelan Refugees

Venezuelan refugees board a Brazilian Air Force plane, heading to Manaus and Sao Paulo, at Boa Vista airport, Roraima state, north of Brazil on May 4, 2018. - The Brazilian government initiated a program of internalisation of refugees who arrive in Boa Vista through the border with Venezuela. In the …
EVARISTO SA/AFP via Getty

CARACAS – Hundreds of Venezuelans that have fled Bolivarian socialism have sought asylum in Iceland, seeking to start a new life in an entirely different country with major cultural, linguistic, and economic barriers.

While the sheer majority of the over six million Venezuelans that have left Venezuela over the past decade are currently living in neighboring countries such as Colombia, Peru, and Brazil, Iceland’s Directorate of Inmigration reported that, prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the majority of accepted asylum requests accepted by the Nordic nation came from Venezuelan nationals, with 361 Venezuelan applicants during 2021 and 265 as of April 2022.

The number of Venezuelan asylum seekers in Iceland began to increase in 2019, with 180 Venezuelan asylum seekers that year, and was slowed down to 104 in 2020 due to Chinese Coronavirus travel restrictions.

For comparison, 2018’s statistics show that only 14 Venezuelans requested asylum in Iceland during that year, only two requests in 2017, and no Venezuelans are shown to have requested asylum in 2016.

Iceland, with its approximately 357,603 thousand citizens, is one of the most unlikely countries to have become a new home for Venezuelans fleeing from the socialist regime and its dictator, Nicolás Maduro. The weather, customs, and language are quite different from that of Venezuela and its proximity to the Caribbean.

The BBC collected the experiences of some of the Venezuelans among the hundreds now living in Iceland this week. Francisco Gimeno, project leader of Iceland Red Cross, said to the BBC, “the number of asylum applications is striking, taking into account the different climate, language and, above all, how far [Iceland] is from Venezuela.”

Anecdotally speaking, the prospect of Venezuelan nationals living in Iceland is so outlandish in the South American nation that this year a satire website published a joke article that narrated how a man from Caracas committed the first crime in Iceland in over 500 years, in allusion to Venezuela’s extremely high crime rate. Venezuelan media sites had to debunk it due to how viral it went.

The collapse of Venezuela’s “Socialism of the 21st Century,” once praised by leftists worldwide, has given forth to one of the worst migrant crises in recent history, which is still ongoing. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 6 million Venezuelan citizens (over 20 percent of the population) have fled from Venezuela.

The Venezuelan migrant crisis is only surpassed by the Syrian migrant crisis and now by Ukraine following the Russian invasion.

While the United Nations and other official organizations estimate the number of Venezuelan migrants to be around 6 million, other groups, such as the Venezuela Diaspora Observatory, dispute it to be more than 7.2 million, with an average of 1,400 Venezuelans fleeing per day.

Unlike other authoritarian regimes, the Maduro regime, in theory, does not prevent Venezuelans from leaving the country. In practice, however, it makes it as difficult as possible to leave the country with proper documentation. Difficulties to obtain appointments to prepare education-related documents in a timely manner or to obtain apostilles, due to the rampant corruption in those offices, serve to trap people inside or push them towards illegal migration.

The socialist regime has also made it an extremely uphill venture to obtain a passport and, while airports are open, a severe reduction in flights out of Venezuela as a result of airlines leaving the country and the Chinese coronavirus has left Venezuela with direct flights to only 12 countries. Many of them are nations ideologically aligned with the socialist regime, such as Cuba, Russia, Iran, and Turkey – and thus unviable for refugees.

As of 2021, Colombia is housing 1.8 of the over 6 million Venezuelan citizens that have fled from the Maduro regime, but the impending presidency of Marxist Gustavo Petro and his friendly approach to Maduro have caused uncertainty for the Venezuelan political dissidents currently living in Colombia, who have begun to flee from the neighboring nation out of fear of persecution.

Other countries like Mexico have opted instead to crack down on Venezuelan migrants by imposing visa requirements – a decision that, according to Reuters, was done partly in response to requests from the Biden administration.

As a result, the most desperate ones have been left with no choice but to flee without proper documentation and leave socialist Venezuela for other destinations through the dangerous jungles of the Colombia-Panama border, known as the Darien Gap, where reports indicate at least 11 Venezuelan citizens have died trying to cross the dangerous jungle in 2022 alone.

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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