Paraguay president says Latin America must confront ‘tragedy’ of Venezuelan refugees
Calling the problem “far worse” than the political protests and violence in Peru and Brazil, Paraguay President Mario Abdo Benitez is demanding that Latin American leaders address the crisis of Venezuelan refugees.
“We seem to have forgotten this massive diaspora of seven million people wandering around the region, looking for homes, for work and sometimes for food,” Benitez said during a speech at the Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in Buenos Aires. “This was big news a few years ago but it seems we have moved on to other crises but it cannot be ignored. Solutions must be found.”
Benitez made reference to comments from several regional governments reacting to anti-government protests in Brazil and Peru. “It is true that we face many challenges but the fate of a large population who have been made homeless must be addressed in sincere dialog.” He added that beyond the “personal tragedy”, there is the enormous burden on governments to provide services for the refugees.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, two million Venezuelans have relocated to Colombia, 500,000 to Ecuador, Peru and Chile, as well as large numbers to Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Panama, Mexico and the United States. In total, the UNHCR estimates that five to six million Venezuelans have left their country.
After Syria, the UNHCR reports that Venezuela has produced the most refugees in the world.
The Celac conference in Buenos Aires gained headlines two weeks ago when Argentina President Alberto Fernández invited Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and Nicaraguan Persident Daniel Ortega. Several Latin American governments, including Paraguay’s, protested that “dictators” should be not be invited to the event.
As the conference opened Tuesday, however, only Díaz-Canel was in attendance with Maduro and Ortega sending last-minute regrets.