National

US to give $2.5M to assist with Venezuelan refugees stranded across border

In this Feb. 21, 2018 photo, Venezuelans cross the International Simon Bolivar bridge into the Colombia. As Venezuela's economic crisis worsens, rising numbers are fleeing in a burgeoning refugee crisis that could soon match the flight of Syrians from the war-torn Middle East.
In this Feb. 21, 2018 photo, Venezuelans cross the International Simon Bolivar bridge into the Colombia. As Venezuela's economic crisis worsens, rising numbers are fleeing in a burgeoning refugee crisis that could soon match the flight of Syrians from the war-torn Middle East. AP

The Trump administration will provide $2.5 million in humanitarian aid for Venezuelan refugees who have fled into Colombian border towns fleeing poverty and oppression.

The extra money, provided through the U.S. Agency for International Development, will provide emergency food and health assistance as the Colombian government struggles to provide necessary medical and social services, said Mark Green, USAID administrator.

“The influx of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans has strained the medical and social services of Colombian border communities and others throughout the Western Hemisphere,” Green said. “Regrettably, this crisis in Venezuela, which is now spilling into the broader region, is man-made — the result of continued political mismanagement and corruption by the Maduro regime.”

The United Nations has warned of an unfolding humanitarian crisis on the Colombia-Venezuela border and has called on international governments to help Colombia and other neighbors. More than 600,000 Venezuelans have fled into Colombia to escape economic uncertainty and a political crackdown.

The United States government would prefer to provide the aid to Venezuelans inside the country, but Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has so far rejected such offers while downplaying the crisis. He accuses the United States of attempting to undermine his government.

The European Union on Monday also announced that it will provide an additional $2.6 million to help Colombia deal with the migrant crisis as part of a larger package that includes support for victims of the country’s decades-old armed conflict.

The U.S. funding will be distributed through the Colombian government, Pan American Health Organization and United Nations World Food Program.

David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, warned Congress last week of a “tipping point” as 50,000 to 100,000 desperate Venezuelans cross the border each day. During his recent visit to the border, Beasley said he learned of the prostitution of young girls while young boys were signing up with extremist and other armed groups.

“It was heartbreaking to see what's taking place,” Beasley said.

Mery “Balvina” Muñoz, a Venezuelan exile in Colombia, doesn’t have a work permit. So she spends most days singing for spare change, including this song that her mother wrote while she was jailed in Venezuela.

It’s unclear what type of congressional support the additional funding will have. But a similar measure introduced by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fl., and Eliot Engel, D-NY, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, to instruct USAID to provide humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people handedly passed the House in December.

Ros-Lehtinen and Engel called the USAID funding a “welcome start” and encouraged South American allies to provide similar aid.

“It is long past time for the international community to step up and provide much-needed food and medicine to the countless Venezuelans who continue to suffer both inside and outside of the country,” they said in a statement.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for a donors summit to help coordinate the international response.

“As Venezuela’s crisis spills beyond its border and threatens to destabilize neighboring countries, today’s announcement must only be a first step,” Menendez said.

During his trip to Latin America, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Colombian President Juan Santos that the United States would like to provide assistance inside Venezuela, said Francisco Palmieri, the current acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, in a State Department video interview.

“The idea is to keep them near the border so that when democracy is restored, they can go home,” Palmieri said.

Email: fordonez@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @francoordonez.

Wuilly Arteaga is a peace icon known for playing his violin during last year’s deadly protests against President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela. The National Guard destroyed his violin and tortured Arteaga in jail. Now he’s calling on the world to co

  Comments