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Welcome, and thank you for coming to this 4th ministerial meeting of our International Contact Group (ICG) on Venezuela. First of all, I would like to warmly welcome Panama to the Group and to this first meeting together with the ICG. We really believe that the reinforcement of the participation of the region in our Group is very important, because we always intended to support regional solutions and ownership of the region.
Today, we will review the latest developments in the country and our work since we met in San José and discuss possible next steps we can take together.
In spite of international efforts, notably by Norway, to help reaching an inclusive political agreement among national actors, the political situation in the country remains blocked. The political crisis and economic collapse in Venezuela is taking a heavy toll on the population and over four million people have already fled the country. This has a tremendous impact on the region and remains a major source of instability.
We are also seeing a very worrying human rights situation as reported by the High Commissioner for Human Rights. We are currently very closely working in Geneva with her Office and within the Human Rights Council to ensure a follow-up of the recommendations of High Commissioner Bachelet.
The European Union welcomes the recent release from prison of the Vice-President of the National Assembly, Edgar Zambrano, and stresses that all other political prisoners arbitrarily detained should be released.
This multidimensional crisis requires an urgent political solution through a peaceful, negotiated, democratic and Venezuelan-owned process, leading to free and fair presidential elections. But to be credible, negotiations have to be representative and present a real perspective of a return to democracy and rule of law in Venezuela. The National Assembly as the democratically elected body needs to be a central actor in this process.
We shall continue intensifying our outreach to promote a better articulation of the international community towards an inclusive negotiated electoral path, able to restore democracy, rule of law and human rights.
Since we met in San Jose, I have appointed Enrique Iglesias - who is here today - as my Special Advisor to help us in our work. Enrique was in Caracas in July and met with all relevant actors at the highest level, starting with Juan Guaidó and Nicolas Maduro as already reported to you. He participated in the meeting of the Lima Group in Buenos Aires and at the International Lima Conference held in August.
I have also been engaging personally with different international interlocutors, from the United States to Russia and China, from the Vatican to Cuba. I visited recently the region (Mexico, Cuba and Colombia) and discussed about Venezuela. Meetings this week with CARICOM and with the Lima Group are very important and should be followed-up. The ICG joint statements that have been issued are also an important way to pass our messages in a united manner.
On the humanitarian side, the situation is dramatic and requires urgent action. According to credible sources the number of people in need may rise to up to 14 million. As a consequence the Venezuelan migration and refugee crisis is also reaching alarming levels, and is expected to further aggravate if political and economic situation is not addressed.
On a more positive note, there is improvement on the humanitarian space and operating conditions for humanitarian actors. However, significant constraints remain present, reducing the capacity of the humanitarian organisations working on the ground, especially the international NGOs, to provide support to those in need.
We should be proud that we have been the ones working with the United Nations agencies, with humanitarian agencies, to allow them to enter the country and deliver assistance to the population, but we should also continue and sustain our work in this area in the weeks to come.
It's important to maintain our engagement towards a depoliticisation of humanitarian aid and the improvement of the access and operating conditions of the humanitarian actors in the field.
The Venezuelan humanitarian/migrant crisis, both inside and outside the country, is still little visible compared to its magnitude, also due to political reasons, as there is clearly an intention of the regime to silence this problem we are clearly seeing. According to the UNHCR it is "one of the most under-funded humanitarian appeals in the world”. We have mobilised resources to a high level, but we need to mobilise additional financial support, including to respond to the regional effects of the crisis and help the host countries.
As the EU we remain strongly engaged in addressing the humanitarian and migratory crisis, providing almost €150 million since 2018. We will co-host, together with UNHCR and IOM, an International Solidarity Conference on the Venezuelan Refugee and Migrant crisis in Brussels at the end of October, in the last days of my mandate, and I will then be happy to pass on the responsibility to Josep Borrell [Spanish Foreign Minister, nominated as the next High Representative] who is with us here today. So in Brussels on 28/29 October we will have a ministerial level event aimed at raising awareness about the crisis, reaffirming political support and calling for increased assistance of the international community.
I would like to conclude by recalling the urgency and the importance of our action. Our engagement matters, and it can truly make a difference. So we must continue on the path that we have set up in these months, and most importantly not forget that this is an ongoing crisis that still requires international mobilisation and unity of purpose.
Thank you !