Canada, UNHCR seeking $1.44 bln for Venezuela migrants

Canada and the UN refugee agency said Friday $1.44 billion is urgently needed to support Venezuelans who fled political and economic unrest, giving rise to the second biggest migrant crisis in the world.

Pledges from donor nations and others are to be announced at a conference hosted by Ottawa on June 17.

“The Venezuelan refugee and migrant crisis is the largest the Western Hemisphere has ever seen, and next to Syria, the second largest in the world,” Michael Grant, Canada’s assistant deputy minister for the Americas, told a briefing.

“The lives of nearly six million people have been upended,” he said, “forced to leave their homes with little or no possessions in search of safety, security and dignity.”

“Walking in some instances thousands of kilometers,” he said, most found safe havens in Latin American and Caribbean nations, with Colombia the top destination for nearly two million of the refugees.

“In doing so, these countries have opened their hearts and homes and accepted a tremendous burden on their national systems,” said Grant. “The world has come to help, but it has not been sufficient.”

Last year, less than half of the funding needed to support resettlement was made available, leaving half of the refugees malnourished and up to nine in 10 without any sources of income.

Venezuela has been in recession for eight years and plunged into a political crisis in January 2019 when opposition leader Juan Guaido, who was parliamentary speaker at the time, declared himself acting president.

The opposition dominated legislature had previously refused to acknowledge President Nicolas Maduro’s 2018 re-election in a poll widely condemned internationally as fraudulent.

Eduardo Stein, joint UNHCR-IOM special representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, said the migrant situation is “dire” and getting worse — with 1,800 to 2,000 Venezuelans continuing to flee their country daily since the start of 2021.

“The burden should not fall on countries in the region alone,” he said. “Addressing displacement requires a global and inclusive partnership where solidarity and responsibility are shared by the entire international community.”

Grant said conference organizers are “optimistic” they’ll reach their funding goal, but are continuing to seek more pledges, including from non-traditional sources.

Leading up to the Ottawa conference, events have been scheduled next week with civil society, religious organizations, private sector backers, and nations hosting migrants.

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