Mérida, June 21, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government has slammed the holding of an ‘International Donor Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants’ last Thursday in Canada.
The event was jointly organized by the Canadian, US, and Spanish governments alongside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Regional Inter-Institutional Coordination Platform for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants (R4V). Similar conferences were held in Belgium and Spain in 2019 and 2020, respectively, with the Spanish conference generating US $3 billion in pledges.
This year’s more than 30 participants, most of whom participated remotely, pledged a total of US $1.5 billion in loans and grants. The funds will allegedly be used to attend to more than 5 million Venezuelan migrants, although details remain unclear. The Venezuelan government did not take part in the event.
Washington, Ottawa and Madrid were among the largest donors, pledging US $407 million, US $93 million and €50 million (US $60 million), respectively. Other donors included the European Commission (€137 million or US $163 million) and the World Bank (US $600 million in loans).
A number of smaller donors, including Estonia, Germany, the Czech Republic and France, openly opted to donate directly to Venezuela’s US-backed opposition parties instead of UN agencies. Estonia, which donated €50,000 (US $60,000), argued that “the solution [to the migration phenomenon] has to first include free and transparent elections.”
The direct external funding was welcomed by opposition front man Juan Guaidó’s team, claiming that it will enable “greater organization outside of Venezuela.” Following the conference, the self-proclaimed “interim president” told reporters that he is planning on sending a delegation to Washington and Brussels in order to “seek support.” A number of Guaidó associates and the former deputy himself have been accused of embezzling reported humanitarian aid in 2019.
Apart from countries of the Global North, a number of US-allied Latin American governments were also present at the conference, including some of the principal receivers of Venezuelan migrant funds.
For his part, embattled Colombian President Iván Duque called for greater per-migrant resources, claiming that only US $300 is assigned to cover the needs of a Venezuelan migrant while US $3000 is allocated for a Syrian refugee. Colombia is estimated to house 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants.
Likewise, Ecuador’s newly-elected right-wing President Guillermo Lasso followed Colombia’s February example by announcing widespread legalization programs for the estimated 430,000 Venezuelans living in the Andean country.
Caracas was quick to hit back at the conference organizers, however, with Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza issuing a damning statement that described the event as a “media farce” to promote a “highly profitable political propaganda” as part of a “strict US script” and “regime change agenda.”
Arreaza also took aim at the conference’s “hypocritical compassion” by pointing out some of the participating governments’ positions towards migration in their own countries, specifically those on the Mediterranean coastline.
Finally, the minister blasted the “scandalous omission” of efforts to address some of the key causes of Venezuelan migration, including the illegal US-led international blockade as well as asset and payment freezes perpetrated by the US, Canada, UK and EU which have exacerbated a drop in living standards in the country.
Updated migration data
Apart from coinciding with International Refugee Day, the donor conference came alongside the release of two reports on Venezuelan migration.
Last Friday, the UNHCR released its annual Global Report in which Venezuelan migration was a key element. According to UN 2020 data, Venezuelan migration has remained steady at roughly 5.4 million, of which 85% live in Latin America.
Out of the total, 171,000 are considered refugees, 851,000 asylum seekers, 2.5 million have legal residencies and 3.85 million are “displaced persons.” In contrast to refugees, the UN defines displaced persons as those “who are likely to be in need of international protection under the criteria contained in the Cartagena Declaration, but who have not applied for asylum.”
The report goes on to indicate that while 130,000 migrants returned to Venezuela in 2020, the total number of “displaced persons” has risen 300,000 from 2019, keeping Venezuela within the top five countries alongside Syria (6.7 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million), South Sudan (2.2 million) and Myanmar (1.1 million).
While the report makes no effort to contextualize each country’s specific migratory phenomenon or differentiate Venezuela from the other countries which have experienced recent violent conflicts, it does generalize that displaced persons from these five nations are “fleeing wars, violence, persecution and human rights violations.” The report makes no reference to the unilateral coercive measures widely regarded as a key factor in Venezuela’s economically-induced exodus.
Finally, the data stipulates that UN inter-agency budgets have put aside US $1.4 billion for a response plan for Venezuelan migrants in 2020, including US $14.2 million issued in cash assistance. The UN budgets do not include money raised at the international donor conference, and the report does not indicate how much of the funds have reached on-the-ground migrants.
A second report on Venezuelan migration released last week came from the independent progressive Venezuelan human rights organization SURES.
The organization, which largely coincided in its estimates of Venezuelan migration numbers, pointed out that “no Venezuelan refugee crisis exists” because only 2.8% of Venezuelan migrants can be considered refugees, a figure it describes as “irrelevant from a statistical viewpoint.” Rather, SURES argued that sanction-induced economically motivated migration is a more accurate description.