GENEVA (Reuters) - More and more Venezuelans are seeking asylum abroad, with nearly a quarter of a million applications lodged in 2018 alone, double that of the previous year, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday.
In all, 414,570 asylum claims have been filed by Venezuelan nationals abroad since 2014, UNHCR said. Nearly 60 percent, or 248,669, were filed during 2018, following 110,825 in 2017.
"As a result of the situation in Venezuela, the number of asylum applications by Venezuelan citizens worldwide has increased exponentially," UNHCR said in a statement reporting national statistics.
Venezuela's economy has been crippled by mismanagement and, since 2014, a drop in the price of oil, its most vital export. Inflation is running at more than 2 million percent a year, in a country where the minimum wage is around $6 a month.
On Friday, Venezuela shut schools and suspended the workday as the worst blackout in decades paralyzed most of the nation for a second day, stirring outrage among citizens.
The food and health crisis has worsened since President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected in May 2018 in an election widely condemned as fraudulent. Amid massive demonstrations, opposition leader Juan Guaido was declared interim president by the National Assembly.
Maduro has clung to power, responding to his opponents with violence and repression, according to Amnesty International. During five days of protests from Jan. 21 to Jan. 25, dozens were killed and 900 arrested, the human rights group said.
UNHCR says people fleeing conflict or persecution are entitled to protection under international law.
Two-thirds of claims by Venezuelan asylum-seekers were registered in Latin America, with the rest in North America and some European countries, it said.
The top five countries receiving asylum applications from 2014-2018 were: Peru (167,238), Brazil (83,893), the United States (72,722), Spain (29,603) and Ecuador (13,535).
The total outflow of Venezuelans is estimated at more than 3.4 million, up from 3.3 million in December, UNHCR said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay Editing by Mark Heinrich)