Haiti

Trump administration will contribute to UN’s $46M request to help Venezuelan refugees

In this Feb. 22, 2018 photo, Venezuelan Nelson Gonzalez pushes his wife Grecia Sabala in a wheelchair across the international border back into Venezuela. Sabala returned after receiving permission to receive chemotherapy treatment in Cucuta, on the Colombian side of the border. Venezuela's health crisis is spilling into neighboring Colombia as thousands of migrants arrive in need of urgent medical attention.
In this Feb. 22, 2018 photo, Venezuelan Nelson Gonzalez pushes his wife Grecia Sabala in a wheelchair across the international border back into Venezuela. Sabala returned after receiving permission to receive chemotherapy treatment in Cucuta, on the Colombian side of the border. Venezuela's health crisis is spilling into neighboring Colombia as thousands of migrants arrive in need of urgent medical attention. AP

The Trump administration is considering giving up to nearly $10 million more to help Latin American and Caribbean nations with the flow of displaced Venezuelans.

The appropriation would be part of the U.S. contribution to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ $46 million special request to address what the UN group describes as the “biggest population movement in the Americas” in modern memory. It would be in addition to the $2.5 million in USAID support offered earlier this week.

Facing cuts in U.S. humanitarian aid under President Donald Trump, Filippo Grandi, head of the UNHCR, was in Washington this week arguing that conditions in Venezuela and around the world require the U.S. government to maintain its levels of humanitarian aid funding.

The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration assured Grandi that it would contribute to the UNHCR supplemental appeal to help an estimated 1.5 million displaced Venezuelans who have spread across the region, he said.

While the bureau did not tell Grandi how much it would provide, U.S. officials are considering providing as much as 20 percent of the request as it has in past appeals, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to speak about the matter publicly. The 20 percent figure would amount to $9.2 million.

“I think they will contribute adequately,” Grandi said. “This is the beginning. I suspect if the crisis continues and it will, we will need more resources and states will need more resources.”

More than 15 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean have taken in displaced Venezuelans, Grandi said. There has been a 2,000 percent increase in the number of Venezuelan nationals seeking asylum worldwide since 2014.

The State Department said they were "very concerned" about the humanitarian crisis, but did not provide estimates of funding for UNCHR.

“We remain very concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela," a state department official said. "We have a responsibility to work together as a hemisphere to address this crisis and to support the people of Venezuela. The U.S. government continues to monitor this situation closely. We are aware that UNHCR has issued an appeal for funding, and we are considering that now."

But Trump on Friday signed a $1.3 trillion dollar spending bill that including $3.06 billion for Migration Refugee Assistance, which was the same as last year.

The United States is the UNHCR’s largest contributor. In the 2017 fiscal year, the U.S. government provided $1.5 billion, which was about a third of the agency’s budget.

Grandi said he was pleased with the bipartisan U.S. support on the Venezuelan matter and expected similar backing this year.

No doubt, Washington is sounding the alarm. Trump signed an executive order this week to provide $2.5 million in humanitarian aid for Venezuelan refugees who have fled into Colombian border towns fleeing poverty and oppression. On Wednesday, USAID administrator Mark Green assured members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the money was just a “down payment.”

“This is a crisis that’s largely gone under the radar in terms of the humanitarian fallout and the forced migration,” Green said. “And it’s something that really hasn’t received enough attention. My commitment is to work with you to make sure that it does. That we provide the resources we can and take every step and look at every measure we can to push this forward.”

The senior administration official cautioned that while the government is considering providing 20 percent of the supplementary appeal funding there are still concerns. U.S. officials want to make sure that smaller, more vulnerable Caribbean nations get enough support and the money isn’t swallowed up by larger countries that already have some of their own resources to deal with the crisis.

“A smaller Caribbean country faces more challenges and obstacles dealing with this amount of refugees in their countries,” the official said.

Nearly 100,000 Venezuelans have fled to southern Caribbean islands, with oil rich Trinidad and Tobago receiving the brunt with about 40,000, the UN said. Located just a few hundred miles north of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago’s population is only 1.3 million, and the flow of refugees is putting a strain on the country’s resources.

During a gathering of Caribbean leaders in Haiti last month, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley told the Miami Herald that the economic and political crisis in nearby Venezuela is having an impact on his small oil rich nation, which is trying to manage the situation.

Venezuelans first began arriving Trinidad by boat to buy toilet paper and small necessities. But as the crisis in Venezuela has worsen, Trinidad is seeing “a considerable amount of persons,” spending a fair amount of time in the English-speaking nation in search of opportunities, Rowley said. Without proper documents to work, many have migrated to the island’s countryside in search of jobs.

“We have managed the situation by increasing trade and food sustenance to Venezuela,” Rowley said.

But concerns about deportations in Trinidad and elsewhere in the region loom. A recent visit to Trinidad and Tobago by one of Grandi’s deputies revealed a “complete lack of resources and experience” dealing with the situation, he said.

"In the Caribbean we have nothing, we need to build from scratch our capacity," Grandi said, adding. "They need more."

Franco Ordoñez: 202-383-6155, @francoordonez

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