5 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants have by now sought safety and new opportunities across the world, mostly in neighbouring countries. During my visit, I was already appointed as EU High Representative and was committed to organise European and international support for the refuges and migrants. The visit at the crossing over the Táchira River confirmed how badly this is needed.
Yesterday, together with my Spanish counterpart González Laya, I could co-chair the International Donors Conference in solidarity with Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the countries of the region. Thanks also to the support of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) the virtual meeting was a success: an overall pledge to support the Venezuelans of over €2.5 billion, of which €600 million in grants was made. The international community has demonstrated what ‘solidarity’ means, and the Conference succeeded to step up support for the millions of displaced Venezuelans, who on top of their long-standing plight now have to cope with the spread of Covid-19. The European Union and its Member States will contribute with almost 60 per cent part of it from the Team Europe package put together as response to COVID-19.
European Commission and European Investment Bank
From the European Union side, the Commission has pledged €144 million for humanitarian aid, development cooperation and conflict prevention. The European Investment Bank has put forward a pledge of 400 million euros of loans at the disposal of the hosting countries. It is an important effort that is badly needed to face the second largest refugee crisis in the world, after the Syrian one.
Yet, the EU has never been absent in this crisis. On the contrary, it has always been at the forefront of the international response. EU assistance, inside and outside Venezuela, before the conference already amounted to almost 320 million euros for addressing humanitarian needs with particular focus on the humanitarian-development nexus.
However, the most important achievement is that we signalled the Venezuelans and their host countries that they are not alone. They have not been forgotten at this time when we are all so concentrated on fighting the coronavirus pandemic on all continents, in our countries and at home. And ‘home’ is a word that has lost meaning for those millions of Venezuelans who left their country in despair. Many are still struggling to settle down in a place that they can again call home, despite the great efforts put in place by the hosting countries.
Tribute to the host countries in the region
Organising this conference was driven by our willingness to honour the commitment that we took last October at the Solidarity Conference for Venezuela in Brussels: to organise a follow-up pledging conference as soon as possible. Of course the amount pledged is of relative size when we keep in mind the needs of the millions of refugees, but it is the beginning of a process. Canada has already generously offered to host another Conference next year.
Yesterday’s Conference was also a tribute to the host countries in the region. Despite being subject to one of the largest mass migrations of our times, they have - not always without problems - generously and actively integrated the Venezuelan migrants in their societies and their communities. Furthermore, it has also incentivized regional cooperation on migration issues in the form of the Quito Group, which the EU has fully supported.
All the countries of the region, with a few exceptions, have opened their borders to Venezuelans in search of a more safe and prosperous life. As Europeans, we should think about this. Countries in the region did not build walls or placed barbed wires. As I witnessed myself in Colombia, they simply welcomed with generosity the people fleeing from despair. This is why they need help and in particular, in the context of the pandemic, we cannot leave their calls unanswered.
Assistance will help addressing key sectors
A fair and dignified response to global challenges is impossible without international solidarity and active cooperation. That is why we remain staunch supporters of multilateralism and of an effective UN system and a big part of the funds gathered will be channelled through international partner organisations to provide immediate relief and development support in the region both for displaced Venezuelans and host communities. Assistance will help addressing key sectors, notably health protection, nutrition, education in emergencies, water and sanitation, psychosocial support. Addressing these needs is urgent and we know it. It is only by joining forces that we can be effective. International cooperation has never been so essential and often so neglected at the same time.
The sheer enormity of this crisis obliges us to reflect on its origins. We cannot forget the multidimensional crisis of Venezuela and we cannot let the political and economic situation there to rotten further. This humanitarian crisis should be the chance to relaunch a dialogue between the parties. A dialogue leading ultimately to a negotiated and peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela.