Venezuelans leave their country as they make their way to the Simon Bolivar international bridge in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, on the border with Colombia, Feb. 21, 2019.
Venezuelans leave their country as they make their way to the Simon Bolivar international bridge in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, on the border with Colombia, Feb. 21, 2019.

GENEVA - Thousands of Venezuelan refugees and migrants are leaving the country every day in search of a better life, the United Nations refugee agency reports.

The agency has not weighed in on the decision by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to close the border with Brazil to prevent U.S. humanitarian aid from entering his country. However, the UNHCR is urging countries to keep their borders open to people in need of international protection.

UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic says Latin American countries processed an unprecedented number of asylum applications and granted residence permits and other forms of regular status to some 1.3 million Venezuelans.

"For UNHCR, it is of utmost importance that the people in need of international protection can seek protection when they require," he said. "The experience shows that individuals that are compelled to leave may opt to use dangerous routes, putting their lives at risk when restrictive migration measures prevent them from reaching safety." 

Mahecic says people forced to use irregular routes often become prey to smugglers, traffickers or armed groups, making them particularly vulnerable to exploitation, violence, sexual abuse and discrimination.

The UNHCR and United Nations migration agency report the number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela now stands at 3.4 million worldwide, with the majority in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Colombia hosts the highest number, with more than one million refugees and migrants, followed by Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil.