As the tension in Venezuela grows with anti-government sentiment, the number of citizens seeking asylum in the United States is growing.
“The most recent data from Citizenship and Immigration Services show 8,301 Venezuelans requested asylum in the first three months of 2017,” reported The Washington Post. “That compares to 3,507 in the first quarter of 2016 and puts the country on pace to surpass last year’s record of 18,155 requests.”
In 2016, Venezuela surpassed China in the number of people seeking American asylum. However, because many didn’t qualify for refugee status due to their flight from inflation and crime, the Venezuelans seeking asylum last year were unable to find sanctuary. That may change this year as Venezuela’s political climate continues to spiral downward.
According to Julio Henriquez, director of the Refugee Freedom Program based in Boston, the data reflecting the number of asylum seekers has yet to include the months since April wherein the anti-government protests began and have been repressed. Human rights groups, according to The Washington Post, point out the 70 deaths that have resulted from the government’s repression as well as over 4,000 arrests.
“We are nearing a refugee crisis,” said Henriquez. “Traditionally we have seen a direct correlation between human rights violations in Venezuela and asylum seekers.” However, there are those who are willing to help in this trying time. According to NBC News, medical students have it taken upon themselves to help those in medical need during the violent protests.
“One of the reasons I came back from Spain is because you always miss your country,” said José Di Giorgio, a volunteering gastroenterologist, to NBC. “To Venezuelans, Venezuela is the best country of the world. It was this feeling of wanting to help others, and the necessity to do a little more for your country.”
Venezuelans are striving to make a change in the way their country is run. In the U.S., about 61% of people who alter their hairstyle do so because they “just want a change.” However, the people of Venezuela are hoping for change on a much larger scale. Some protest, some provide medical care, and others flee in order to keep their families safe.