An estimated three million people have fled the crisis in Venezuela since 2015, most of whom should be considered refugees, the United Nations said Tuesday.
UN refugee agency spokeswoman Liz Throssell said that an average of 3,000 to 5,000 people are leaving Venezuela each day, as the country’s economy continues to deteriorate amid a power struggle between President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido.
“We’re looking at about three million people who have left Venezuela since 2015,” Throssell told reporters in Geneva.
The UNHCR said 460,000 Venezuelans have made formal asylum requests, mostly in neighboring Latin American countries.
The agency added that it was issuing a “guidance note” to countries to advise them that most displaced Venezuelans are entitled to international protection.
“This is because of the threats to their lives, security or freedom resulting from circumstances that are seriously disturbing public order in Venezuela,” UNHCR said in a statement.
The UN agency also called on all states “to ensure that Venezuelans, regardless of their legal status, are not deported or otherwise forcibly returned to Venezuela.”
The economy in oil-rich Venezuela was already spiraling downward before Maduro was sworn in for a second six-year term in January.
Guaido then claimed constitutional legitimacy as the National Assembly speaker, and declared himself acting president.
He quickly won recognition from more than 50 countries, but has failed to topple Maduro, who is backed by Venezuela creditors China and Russia and retains the support of the country’s powerful military.