UN seeks $1.72 billion next year to aid Venezuelan migrants, refugees

FILE PHOTO: Colombian civil defense employees set up tents for a UN refugee agency UNHCR camp that will serve as a shelter for Venezuelan migrants in Arauquita, Colombia March 27, 2021. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/File Photo

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - The United Nations will seek $1.72 billion for 2023 to aid Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean, member agencies said on Thursday.

Some 7 million people have fled economic and political crisis in Venezuela in recent years, and most are now scattered around the region, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a joint statement.

Around 2.5 million are in neighboring Colombia, with more than 1 million in Peru, and large numbers also in Ecuador and Chile.

The 2023 funding appeal is in line with the $1.79 billion requested for 2022, of which only a quarter has yet been received, the agencies said, with economic worries and events elsewhere diverting global attention.

The United Nations humanitarian system overall faces the biggest funding gap ever, with its unmet funding at 53% in 2022.

The agencies also expect to request $1.57 billion in aid for Venezuelans for 2024, but will review the figure at the end of 2023, a representative said.

Many Venezuelans are struggling to rebuild their lives outside their home country, said Eduardo Stein, a joint representative of UNHCR and IOM for Venezuelan refugees and migrants.

"Many have seen their lives come to a standstill," he said in a statement.

The 2023 plan is to partner with over 200 organizations to offer humanitarian services to more than 3 million Venezuelans and support local governments that are stretched thin.

The UN agencies also flagged the risks that Venezuelans take to migrate, including crossing the treacherous Darien jungle between Colombia and Panama.

More than 148,000 Venezuelans, many headed north to the United States, crossed the Darien Gap between January and October 2022 - 50 times more than in all 2021.

After a U.S.-Mexico policy announced in October to deter them, the number of crossings through the Darien has dropped, yet thousands of Venezuelans remain scattered throughout Mexico and Latin America.

(Reporting by Elida Moreno, Editing by Daina Beth Solomon and Rosalba O'Brien)

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