BRASILIA – The head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offered on Monday greater cooperation for Latin American and Caribbean nations faced with increasing flows of Venezuelan refugees.
Filippo Grandi inaugurated in Brazil’s capital a regional gathering to address a phenomenon that affects regions all over the world and which in Latin America has a new focal point with the exodus of Venezuelans fleeing the economic and humanitarian crisis in their homeland.
The UNHCR chief did not city any specific situation, but he said that in Latin America and other regions thousands of men, women and children make the most difficult decision of their lives in leaving their homes and their homelands due to various types of conflicts.
Grandi praised the manner in which Latin American countries have handled and continue to cope with refugee flows; he said the UNHCR has been responding to their requests, while also promising to provide even closer cooperation as the problem worsens.
The purpose of the meeting is to compile recommendations based on the experiences of Latin American and Caribbean nations and thereby contribute to a so-called global compact on refugees, which Grandi is to propose in his annual report to the General Assembly in 2018 for consideration at its 73rd session in September.
Also taking part in the gathering was Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes, who referred to the “humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela and its repercussions in Brazil and across the region.
The UNHCR says some 133,000 Venezuelans sought refuge in regional countries between 2014-2017, while 363,000 others have opted for other “legal alternatives” offered especially by Latin American nations.
Some 40,000 Venezuelans have crossed the border into the Brazilian state of Roraima, one of the country’s poorest; Nunes said Roraima would not close its doors to those refugees even though it does not have the financial conditions to attend to the crisis.
Nunes said the federal government has offered aid to Roraima and also is taking steps to facilitate their access to public services and the labor market, both in that border state and other areas of Brazil.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled their homeland amid food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation and crossed into Colombia, Peru and other countries.
The leftist-led country also has been hammered by lower oil prices and harsh economic sanctions imposed by the United States, with President Donald Trump signing an executive order last year barring US institutions from involvement in any new debt issued by the Venezuelan government or that nation’s state oil company, PDVSA.
That move by the US came after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s administration pushed through with plans for a controversial National Constituent Assembly (ANC), which took over the functions of the unicameral legislature, the National Assembly, the only institution in the opposition’s control.
“Speaking about the drama of refugees is to talk about conflicts, about dictatorships, about the destruction of ways of life, but also to talk about solidarity, humanity and respect,” and “that is what the refugees find in Brazil,” Nunes said.
Those “good practices” on the humanitarian front are one of the Latin American and Caribbean region’s “greatest contributions” to the international debate on the refugee crisis and should form part of the global compact on refugees, Nunes said.