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Mayor seeks emergency declaration as refugees overwhelm city services

Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios says he is still waiting for federal support to assist the city take care of thousands of Venezuelan refugees. “I am asking the president and the interior ministry to declare the city in humanitarian crisis due to the large number of migrants in need of basic services but I have not received a response,” he said.

Mayor Pedro Palacios

Repeating his claim of August 28 that the city needs at least $1.5 million through the end of 2019 to provide food, lodging, health care and other services for the refugees, Palacios said the need is “more urgent than ever.”

He justified his call for a state of emergency, noting that such a declaration has been issued on the border with Colombia.

The mayor says his administration is working on an immigration management plan to address long-term as well as immediate needs but it cannot be implemented without financial support. “Beyond simply feeding the hungry, we need to consider such things as employment and housing for Venezuelans and we need help to do this,” he said.

The city is helping the government conduct a national census of Venezuelans but the municipal foreign affairs office doubt it will provide an accurate count of refugees since it is voluntary. Estimates of the number of Venezuelans in Cuenca range from 8,000 to as high as 15,000.

One of the problems that Cuenca faces, Palacios says, is that it is popular with refugees. “They feel they are better treated here than in Quito and Santo Domingo so more arrive every day,” he says. “I understand that this is a national problem but it affects Cuenca more severely than most other cities.”