USF and the Venezuelan Diaspora: News from the Field

In the last few years, the humanitarian crisis in Venezuelan has reached an unbearable peak, leading to an unprecedented exodus. Over 5 million of Venezuelans have left the country, and some human rights organizations are predicting that this mass migration could even surpass the Syrian crisis of 2015.

Migration scholar, Dr. Beatriz Padilla, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of South Florida (USF), has been keenly aware of this situation and wanted to get involved. Thus, she proposed a research project entitled "The Venezuelan Humanitarian Crisis: Migration, Trauma and Resilience", which was recognized with a USF Nexus Initiative Award – which offers tenured/tenure-track and full-time research faculty members the opportunity to collaborate with global and national community partners in scholarly projects.

This project brought together research teams from Argentina, Portugal, and USF to carry out fieldwork on the recent arrival of Venezuelan migrants in response to the humanitarian crisis that their country of origin is experiencing. The project adopted a qualitative methodology involving a) in-depth interviews with Venezuelans who had settled in Argentina, Portugal, or Florida in the United States, b) critical policy analysis to the most relevant migration and integration policies displayed in the selected countries in response to the increasing number of arrivals, and mass-media analysis to news and social networks publications alluding to Venezuelan migrants in each country.

Interviews in Portugal and Argentina were conducted in the summer and December of 2019, and this past spring, we started the interviewing process in the Tampa Bay area. The research team contacted local and community organizations, and had USF students involved. As our work was gaining speed, however, the research was interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Instead of giving up, we became creative, and were able to continue our research using information and communication technologies, conducting interviews by phone, Skype, FaceTime, and WhatsApp. For Venezuelans, these conversations have been a means to share their own stories and experiences while also expressing their feelings and emotions in the context of the epidemic," says Padilla.

Although uncertainties and stress are common among migrants, crisis situations such as the one we are experiencing now, tend to affect migrant communities more, as they are more likely to become unemployed and lose social benefits and support. In losing their source of income, they lack the resources to send remittances to Venezuela, where most of them have families that depend on them to survive and get by. Thus, the pandemic is intensifying more the preexisting humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the daily lives of Venezuelans abroad, as some of them have no option but to return home, especially from neighboring countries. Yet, the strict travel bans and curfews imposed are preventing Venezuelans to settle, either at home or abroad.

"As researchers, we are not giving up, on the contrary, we try to keep up with what is going on and take all opportunities that come across to share findings. Through dissemination we hope to help migrant communities and/or provide policy-makers and politicians data to help them make informed decisions," adds Padilla.

Because of this, our team was invited to participate in a radio program named "The Voice of the Venezuelan Diaspora" (La Voz de la Diáspora Venezolana en Buen Provecho" por RCR.TV y RCR750), on April 8, 2020.

During the radio program, Tomás Páez, the Director of the Venezuelan Diaspora Observatory interviewed Magdalena López (ISCTE-IUL, Portugal) and Padilla about their ongoing research, discussing some of the findings. Once more, technologies proved to be useful, as they facilitated dissemination and outreach while respecting social distancing. The radio program segment can be found on YouTube (in Spanish).

It is the hope of the research team that the health threat posed by COVID-19 is over soon, so research can be completed and the final conference which originally was planned for April 2020, can be held. The final event will bring all three teams together; in addition the Organization of the American States, as the local Venezuelan community will be involved.

Published on: 6/19/2020