BRUSSELS (AP) — Hundreds of representatives from governments, international agencies and charity groups gathered in Brussels Monday for a “solidarity conference” to drum up support for millions of Venezuelans who have fled the political crisis and to help neighboring countries that are taking them in.
The South American nation of roughly 30 million people is gripped by a deepening political and economic crisis. People live in fear of anything from violent street protests to a massive power failure. The International Monetary Fund says inflation is expected to hit a staggering 200,000% this year.
Around 4.5 million people have fled Venezuela in recent years to escape low wages, failing basic services and a lack of security, and the numbers will soon surpass the 5.6 million who’ve left conflict-ravaged Syria since 2011 if departures continue at the same rate.
“The magnitude, reach and complexity of the current crisis has some global implications, including the European continent. It can also pose risks to regional stability,” Eduardo Stein, the Venezuela envoy for the U.N.’s refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration, told delegates at the start of the two-day meeting in the Belgian capital.
“For the coming year, we project the total number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants world-wide to pass from 4.5 million to 6.5 million, nearly 85% of whom will be found in Latin America,” he said.
Most Venezuelans have remained in Latin America, notably Colombia, or the Caribbean, weighing heavily on those economies.
Stein said the sheer weight of arrivals in host countries “has overburdened their institutional scaffolding’’ and that “their budgets are exhausted.” Despite the popular goodwill and many acts of charity, resentment is slowly rising among the citizens of Venezuela’s neighbors as money is spent to help the displaced.
Neighboring Colombia has seen its Venezuelan population soar from 48,000 to 870,000, while thousands more have fled to other Latin American countries and the United States. The number of people born in Venezuela who live in Spain has jumped from 165,000 in 2015 to 255,000 last year, according to Spain’s National Institute of Statistics.
While the event is not a donor conference, some countries are expected to pledge money, given the dire need for health care, job, documentation and education services, beyond the basic needs of food and shelter.