World needs to do more for Venezuelan refugees
Can you imagine walking more than 1,000 kilometres with your children and one suitcase of belongings? That is the marathon journey many Venezuelan refugees and migrants have made as they flee the crisis afflicting their country to reach a safe haven in other countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
This is the world’s second-largest displacement crisis, after Syria. With more than 5.6 million people affected, the Venezuelan exodus is equivalent to the population of Denmark flooding into the rest of Europe. But this crisis goes largely unnoticed and unreported in the wider world.
The pandemic has added even greater hardship, increasing the many risks that Venezuelans meet as they try to reach safety. Lengthy lockdown measures cripple refugees’ and migrants’ attempts to find jobs. In particular, women and girls are exposed to even greater risks of exploitation and xenophobia. Also, the impact of the pandemic is not just on refugees and migrants – throughout the region, local communities are suffering greatly.
Despite the hardships currently experienced, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have quietly, but generously, sought to address the challenge, responding to needs, and committing to social and economic integration. Host countries are doing all they can to give their Venezuelan brothers and sisters a life with dignity. Some have already given displaced persons a legal status, so that they can access health and education services, housing and legal work. Crucially, during the pandemic, many have been included in national COVID-19 vaccination campaigns. We have seen bold and courageous initiatives to give protection to millions of irregular migrants. However, these efforts are overwhelming the region and they need help.
While host countries are trying to take on this massive responsibility, international support for this crisis falls short. Last year’s United Nations funding appeal received only half of the financial requirements to support those in need. The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn so much of the world’s attention and resources, that it has eclipsed this crisis. The international community needs to do more.
The cost of not acting now would be to endanger regional stability. In addition, large numbers of unvaccinated refugees and migrants would compound the severe public health and economic crisis in the region.
If we set the right conditions collectively, this crisis could be turned into an opportunity. Venezuelans bring skills, knowledge and an entrepreneurial spirit that can help to empower the post-COVID economic recovery of the region.
That is why Canada, following in the footsteps of the European Union and Spain’s 2020 Conference, is hosting a virtual high-level International Donors Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants on June 17, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration. We want to make people aware of the huge impact this crisis is having and the burden being shouldered mainly by host countries in the region. We must ignite nothing less than a sense of urgency for governments outside the region, multilateral organisations, international financial institutions, the private sector and civil society to demonstrate solidarity.
It is time to let Venezuelan refugees and migrants, and their hosts, know that the world cares.
- This joint Op-Ed has been authored by Josep Borrell, EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, and vice-president of the European Commission; Arancha González Laya, minister of foreign affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Spain; Karina Gould, minister of international development, Canada; and Eduardo Stein, joint UNHCR-IOM special representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants. Send feedback email@example.com.