Colombia fury over lack of Venezuelan refugee aid

More than a million Venezuelans have crossed the border into Colombia to escape the travails of a failing state amid soaring inflation. Their new hosts are calling on allies to help meet the costs.

  • By Thierry Ogier
  • 13 Oct 2018
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As the political crisis in Venezuela has turned into a humanitarian crisis, Colombia says it has not received as much help as expected to cope with the influx of around a million Venezuelan refugees into its territory in recent months.

Colombia has called for the establishment of a humanitarian fund under the supervision of a United Nations envoy to help Colombia cope with the situation, as its public services have come under great strain.

“We are asking the humanitarian community for help because it is not a Colombian problem. We have been having some help, but it is much less than what we expected,” said Juan José Echavarría, central bank governor of Colombia.

In a recent intervention at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank, Colombia’s foreign minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said: “We can put all the resources that we may put into it, [but] there won’t be any possibility for Colombia to face that challenge alone.”  

Echavarría said there was no clear estimate of the financial burden of the refugee crisis due to the additional pressure on health services, education and housing, but the Inter-American Development Bank says Colombia will need $1.6bn a year to respond to the refugee crisis. “We should work harder in keeping an orderly process. Maybe we should learn from other countries that have refugees,” Echavarría said.

But there are also political complications, as the new right wing president of Colombia, Iván Duque, has made no secret that he also wants the end of the Maduro regime, which has brought the Venezuelan economy to its knees, with annual inflation at an estimated 1,000,000%, according to the IMF.

“A return to democracy is very difficult… because the opposition has weakened in Venezuela,” said Julio Velarde, the central bank governor of Peru, another Andean country, which has had to cope with the influx of around half a million refugees.

“They sometimes walk something like the distance between Paris and Moscow. They arrive here, they do not have enough food, not enough medicine… they are in a terrible shape,” he told GlobalMarkets

XENOPHOBIC TENSIONS

Venezuela used to be the only investment grade country in Latin America in the 1960s, thanks to its huge oil reserves, Velarde said. In past decades, Venezuelans also helped Colombians who fled from economic crises at home. “We have a historical responsibility with Venezuela, because they took our people in the past. So far Colombia has tried to collaborate the most we can, but we are under large stress,” said Echavarría.

The integration between refugees and the local population is also a critical aspect, according to Jorge Familiar, vice-president of Latin America for the World Bank, who visited the Venezuela-Colombia border last week. 

“Migration in the long run brings benefits. It is incredibly important that in the short run, countries avoid xenophobic manifestations to arise, that would create tensions and would not allow countries to benefit from the positive aspects of migration in the medium and longer term,” Familiar said.

  • By Thierry Ogier
  • 13 Oct 2018

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