When Johan Álvarez was unable to provide more than one meal a day for his young family he knew it was time to leave Venezuela. With his wife and infant son, the 25-year-old embarked on a lengthy journey by bus through three nations to reach Peru earlier this year. Now they are among a growing swell of Venezuelans asking to be recognized as refugees, reports the AP. A United Nations report released Wednesday finds that Venezuelans represent the largest group worldwide filing new asylum claims. Those fleeing the nation accounted for more than one in five of all asylum requests in 2018, higher than the number of claims made by people escaping Afghanistan and Syria. But Venezuela is not in the midst of war and many foreign governments are reluctant to recognize the migrants as refugees. "It's not a war of arms," says Álvarez. "But it is a war of survival."
As Venezuela's crisis drags on, the number fleeing is rising by alarming numbers. The UN estimates there are now 4 million Venezuelans living abroad—a quarter of whom have fled since November. The Organization of American States estimates the number could reach 7.5 million by the end of 2020. To date, more than 460,000 Venezuelans have sought asylum, including nearly 350,000 in 2018 alone, according to the UN. Worldwide, only about 21,000 Venezuelans have been recognized as refugees. The widely used definition of refugee is someone who has fled his or her homeland because of persecution, war, or violence. But a more encompassing definition in the 1984 Cartagena Declaration includes people fleeing hunger and poverty resulting from the breakdown of rule of law—conditions which a much wider group of Venezuelans are experiencing. (Much more from the AP here.)