Latin American nations gathering to discuss Venezuelan migrant crisis

Venezuelan migrants wait at the Binational Border Service Center of Peru, on the border with Ecuador, in Tumbes, Peru, on Aug 25, 2018.
Venezuelan migrants wait at the Binational Border Service Center of Peru, on the border with Ecuador, in Tumbes, Peru, on Aug 25, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

QUITO (AFP) - Ministers from a dozen Latin American nations start a two-day meeting in Ecuador on Monday (Sept 3) on how they can cooperate to end the massive Venezuelan migrant crisis that has jolted the region.

Officials will discuss calls for international funding for overwhelmed public services and whether to impose tighter restrictions to curb migrant flows, in the first concerted drive to agree on a common policy to address the crisis.

The two-day meeting is scheduled to conclude with a joint statement on Tuesday, the host Ecuador said.

Ecuador's Foreign Minister Jose Valencia told reporters ahead of the talks: "A regional effort will help our countries respond better to these situations, so that we can coordinate efforts and provide humanitarian assistance to people on the move."

Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have all called for more funding from developed countries to assist their utterly overwhelmed public services.

The three countries have received the bulk of migrants flowing out of Venezuela.

The European Union announced a US$35 million (S$48 million) aid package last Friday to support Venezuelans both at home and in host countries.

Ministers from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay will be present at the Quito meeting, Ecuadoran officials said.

Venezuela and its ally Bolivia have also been invited, but by late on Sunday had not signalled they would attend, officials here said.

Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans are teeming into neighbouring countries, fleeing a collapsing economy under President Nicolas Maduro, with falling oil prices and mismanagement leading to shortages of food and medicine.

"It is essential that each country takes its share of responsibility," said Mr Santiago Chavez, Ecuador's Deputy Minister of Human Mobility.

 
 
 
 

Mr Chavez said that would include Venezuela, which will be asked to "implement policies" so that Venezuelan migration "can at least be adequately addressed in the host country".

Countries across South America, traversed by Venezuelan migrants, have vastly differing entry requirements, with some requiring no more than an ID, while others have toughened their restrictions to try to control the flow of migrants.

Ecuador's ombudsman Ernesto Pazmino said "all governments should make their countries more flexible in order to cushion this humanitarian crisis".

Human rights lawyer Daniela Salazar said governments needed to attack the causes of migration, and not only look at its consequences.

"As governments feel that this is affecting them, at least that will help them not to look the other way, and really put enough international pressure in place to urge change in the political situation in Venezuela," said Mr Salazar, a professor at Quito's San Francisco University.

Mr Chavez said an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) on Wednesday (Sept 5) would be the appropriate setting for a political discussion on Venezuela.

"In Quito, we are going to focus on the issue on more pragmatic, less political issues," he said.

Mr Chavez said the Quito meeting would focus on countries' funding needs for migrant health, education and development projects.

Mr Salazar said he was concerned that despite the fact that an immigration crisis had been coming "until now there is no real plan by governments to welcome people".

Mr Pazmino said the exodus "exceeded all expectations and countries of the Americas have to establish strategies, a regional contingency plan, to alleviate this crisis caused by the wave of emigration".