Víctor Salazar, 34, once practiced law in Venezuela. Today, he supports himself by selling cigarettes on the streets of Quito. It gives him no pleasure knowing he is breaking a law and could be fined $788 and even deported. But Salazar is stuck. He cannot afford to pay for the permits required to work legally and he has already exceeded his 180-day tourist visa.
His predicament is shared by thousands of Venezuelan refugees. Over 60 percent of the 350,000 who have entered Ecuador over the last three years and who want to stay do not have the documents or income to apply for a long-term visa.
Refugees increasingly turn to Ecuadorian, United Nations and private aid agencies for support, and those agencies are straining financially to offer support.
According to the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOHA), the number of Venezuelan refugees who want to settle in Ecuador will grow to 500,000 by year’s end, dramatically increasing the need for funds to support the growing need.
To supplement Ecuador’s rapidly depleting reserves, the government has asked regional aid agencies and international governments for support. It has received many promises but the money has been slow to arrive.
According to the UN, only 22.07 percent of foreign committments for medical aid to Ecuador has been received while only $9.3 million of $34.3 million pledged for food has been secured. Barely $1 million has been raised for social and economic programs of an expected $19 million.
The total international contribution raised to date is $20.4 million, or 17.4% of the promised funds, the UN says.
Peru and Columbia are not faring much better. Although each country has significantly more Venezuelan refugees (1.5 million in Colombia, 800,000 in Peru), the per capita percentage of actual support versus the promised is nearly identical to Ecuador’s.
Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, voiced his concerns during the Organization of American States (OAS) general assembly June 28 in Medellin.
“The response has been more generous in other crises,” Trujillo says. “For example, Venezuelan refugees are expected to receive about $100 in services through aid agencies while Syrian refugees are on track to receive $5,000. The disparity of funding is crippling our ability to provide services for those in need now and in the future,” he said.
An OAS spokesperson offered a more optimistic view. He reported that several European and American countries recently participated in two days of discussions in Quito that concluded with the signing of a new declaration to support additional studies to determine refugee needs. He predicts that more funding is forthcoming.