Solidarity with the Venezuelan People (with Arancha González Laya)
But the smoke and dust around this global health crisis is diverting attention from other tragedies, regional in scope, but equally intense given the havoc they are causing and - above all - the number of people suffering from it.
One of these collective tragedies - a human crisis that risks being forgotten, is the displacement of more than five million Venezuelan refugees and migrants who have left their country in search of a better life.
We are not going to address here the causes of this exodus. The crisis that Venezuela has been experiencing for years has several dimensions and requires internal dialogue, supported by the international community, if it is to be overcome. The European Union and Spain are certainly willing to accompany this process. But now is the time to attend millions of Venezuelans who are taking for Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile and other countries in Latin America, fleeing from hunger, disease, misery or persecution.
We Europeans, who have experienced our own refugee and migration crises for many years, need to pay attention to this tragedy in Latin America and the Caribbean. The host countries are not building walls or planting barbed wire. They are receiving these people in their millions and providing them with the necessary assistance that will facilitate their integration into the host communities.
And yet the challenge is enormous. With thousands of Venezuelans leaving their country every day in recent years, host governments have seen their health and education systems overwhelmed in the areas where the displaced are concentrated, and their institutions struggle to continue delivering prevent public services, including security, in the face of this migration challenge.
The United Nations, through the UNHCR and IOM, has developed a regional platform where diaspora numbers are reflected and humanitarian aid needs are assessed. But that is only part of it. There is an immediate demand for food, hygiene, or shelter. There is another demand to be addressed, looking at the medium and long term, namely to strengthen national institutions and public services. Health, education, housing, or security need to be significantly strengthened, because most of this mass of refugees and migrants will not be able to return to their country in the coming years.
This situation, already tragic enough, has been aggravated by COVID-19. The virus has placed an additional burden of disease and death on refugees and migrants concentrated in border areas or informal settlements around large cities.
There is an urgent call for international solidarity. Despite the massive scale of the displacement - it is the second largest migration crisis in the world, only behind the Syrian crisis - and the enormous humanitarian needs it generates, the receiving nations have received little support from the international community, with Colombia, Ecuador and Peru suffering most from the burden of this displacement. Funding for the Venezuelan crisis is significantly lower than figures for other global refugee crises, which is why there is an urgent call for international solidarity.
There are human stories behind the figures. Stories of families forced to leave behind what they have built over a lifetime. Stories of walkers, who have crossed a continent on foot looking for a new beginning. Stories of women, who have been victims of violence or sexual exploitation when they were just looking for a way out of their despair. In an unprecedented effort, host countries in Latin America are trying to provide the conditions for these stories to continue on the basis of dignity, respect and social well-being. We must help them do so.
In October 2019, in view of this serious situation, the European Union organised a conference in solidarity with Venezuelan migrants and refugees, with the aim of giving global visibility to this crisis and encouraging governments to support the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, which are giving an example of solidarity to the world. Today, months later, fulfilling the commitment made by the European Commission, Spain and the European Union are joining forces to convene, with the support of UNHCR and IOM, a new conference that will provide us with funds to support the efforts of the countries that are hosting millions of Venezuelans.
Countries around the world are busy saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic, wisely managing available medical resources and preparing for the economic recovery. We are confident that the momentum of solidarity that the fight against COVID-19 has awakened in the world will also extend to the relief needed by our displaced Venezuelan brothers in the region.
This op-ed has been published in several media outlets. Please find a selection below: