Donors pledge $1.5 billion for Venezuelan migrants, humanitarian crisis


FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan refugees walk to a school where a temporary shelter has been set up, to receive medical assistance and humanitarian aid from the Colombian Red Cross, in Arauquita, Colombia March 28, 2021. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez//File Photo

(Reuters) -More than 30 countries and two development banks on Thursday pledged more than $1.5 billion in grants and loans to aid Venezuelan migrants fleeing a humanitarian crisis, as well as their host countries and vulnerable people still in the country.

The $954 million in grants announced at a donors' conference hosted by Canada - which included pledges of $407 million from the United States and C$115 million Canadian dollars ($93.12 million) from Canada - exceeded the $653 million announced at a similar event last year.

But that fell short of the needs of countries hosting the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have left their country since 2015, as the once-prosperous nation's economy collapsed into a years-long hyperinflationary recession under socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Most have resettled in developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have themselves seen their budgets stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"Does this cover all needs? Of course not," Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters. "We will have to continue to encourage donors to support the response."

Venezuela's foreign ministry called the conference a "media farce" and said that crippling U.S. sanctions, aimed at ousting Maduro, have caused the economic and migration crisis.

"[We] demand that the governments and organizations that participate in this evident farce cease their acts of political, economic and communicational aggression against Venezuela," the ministry said in a statement.

At the conference, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced that the country - which hosts some 430,000 Venezuelans - would begin a new process to regularize migrants' status. That came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the 1.8 million Venezuelans it hosts.

Karina Gould, Canada's minister for international development, said the amount pledged showed donors were eager to support such efforts.

"There is that recognition on behalf of the global community that there needs to be support to ensure that that generosity can continue, and can actually deepen, in host countries," Gould said.

In addition, the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank pledged $600 million in loans to address the crisis, Gould said.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido in a tweet thanked Canada and the other participants.

"We should unify and join forces for a solution in Venezuela," he said.

($1 = 1.2349 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Luc Cohen, Michelle Nichols and David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)

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