A demonstrator throws back a tear gas canister while clashing with the Venezuelan National Guard Jan. 21 during a protest close to one of their outposts in Caracas. CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters

Agencies in urgent need of aid dollars for Venezuelan refugees

  • February 11, 2019

The $53 million Ottawa plans to spend on migrants, refugees and ordinary people suffering through economic breakdown in Venezuela could help cover an open wound of human suffering in neighbouring Brazilian towns that are hosting thousands of refugees.

The Caritas network in the Brazilian state of Roraima is doing all it can, but is barely keeping up with the need, the co-ordinator for the Diocese of São João da Boa Vista ministry to migrants told The Catholic Register in an e-mail.

“All of our work in the ministry to migrants and Caritas is a drop in the ocean,” said Sr. Valdiza Carvalho.

Carvalho estimates there are now 30,000 refugees living in Boa Vista, a city of less than 300,000, with another 9,000 in smaller towns throughout the region.

“The increase in people is remarkable,” she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of aid on Feb. 4 at an Ottawa meeting of 14 countries who make up the Lima Group specified that money would be channeled through “trusted organizations.” At this point the government hasn’t said who those trusted partners are, said Development and Peace spokesperson Kelly Di Dominico.

“We know that the people of Venezuela are facing tremendous hardship and they need our help, as do the countries who have taken in those fleeing violence,” Trudeau said.

At least three million Venezuelans have been forced to flee since 2015 in the face of hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, and political upheaval fuelled by the violent regime of President Nicolas Maduro who, according to credible allegations, remains in power because he rigged election results. The economic and political breakdown in the country with the world’s largest reserves of oil has left the population searching for food, basic health care and jobs.

Since 2017 Canada has sent $2.21 million in humanitarian assistance to the region. The Feb. 4 announcement of $52.89 million includes money for emergency food, health care, water and sanitation, education and protection of women and girls. A total of $18 million will go directly to governments hosting migrants. Education programs along the Colombian-Venezuelan border get an $11-million boost. Humanitarian assistance generally, including assistance to host communities, comes to $16 million. Another $887,000 through Canada’s Peace and Stabilization Operation Program will be spent on monitoring and reporting on human rights inside Venezuela.

The situation in Boa Vista is improving, said Carvalho in a Portuguese-language message. With help from Brazil’s armed forces, Boa Vista now has 13 shelters housing about 6,000 people. That still leaves a lot of people on the streets, sleeping in parks and around Boa Vista’s bus terminal.

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