Statement at the International Donors' Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants
Minister Gould, Dear Karina,
Director General António Vitorino,
I speak to you from the region impacted by the outflow of Venezuelan refugees and migrants where I have decided to spend this week, during which we observe World Refugee Day, in recognition of the commendable efforts made by host countries.
And it is a pleasure to join you today from Panama which hosts the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Platform that we have co-led with IOM since 2018. And it is a privilege to sit here alongside with the Joint Special Envoy Eduardo Stein of IOM and UNHCR, who has been instrumental in helping to advance solutions for Venezuelans and the communities that host them. Eduardo, estamos muy agradecidos por tu trabajo tan valioso.
Today’s conference comes at a critical juncture. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage Latin America and the Caribbean, refugees and migrants from Venezuela are facing growing protection challenges.
One out of 4 Venezuelan children are now separated from one or both parents. One out of 3 go to bed hungry. Nearly two-thirds have not made it to a school since the start of the pandemic. Women are also at much greater risk – domestic violence, sexual harassment and abuse are rising everywhere. Older people are also severely affected – 49 per cent have lost their jobs. Many of them were the main breadwinners.
And despite official border closures, displacement continues steadily through irregular movements. This brings much greater risks for people on the move. Extorsion by human smuggling networks, robbery, sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking and even death (as we have seen recently at sea and across mountainous terrain). All of this has become commonplace. Improved access to territory is thus an essential requirement to avoid often fatal dangers.
Irregular movements ultimately result in irregular status – we heard this from the Director General from IOM – for 30 to 40 per cent of all refugees and migrants from Venezuela, compounding the impact of COVID-related hardships.
Several host countries have taken steps to provide regular status through registration and documentation. In February, I was very proud to stand next to President Duque of Colombia, when he announced the TPS for Venezuelans – a bold and unprecedented move. Similarly, important exercises are underway in Peru in Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic and it is my sincere hope – and request – that other countries soon follow suit.
I urge you, the international community, to step up and support these commendable initiatives – because their success is critical, not only for their country but for the entire region.
Success requires a concerted effort from humanitarian donors and development actors together. The support of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank for regularization initiatives and the inclusion of refugees and migrants into social protection frameworks is vital. We must also acknowledge the regional efforts made by host countries in the Quito Process, advancing socioeconomic integration aspects of protection and solutions, most recently under Peruvian leadership.
Last but surely not least, I want to thank all the 159 partners working together under the leadership of the joint platform, including United Nations agencies and NGOs, who despite the challenges of the past 18 months continue to bring assistance and protection to Venezuelan refugees and migrants. Nothing of what we do would be possible without their work and their commitment.
Allow me to conclude by thanking you Karina, thanking Minister Gould and the Government of Canada for their admirable leadership, rallying all of us to help the millions of Venezuelans refugees and migrants so generously hosted in this region.