By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
– One year into the most recent series of protests and a humanitarian crisis with no end in sight, international groups have called for action to help protect Venezuelans.
A complex political and economic crisis in Venezuela has left millions without access to basic services and resources, prompting UN agencies and human rights groups like Human Rights Watch to speak up and urge action.
“Venezuela needs help to tackle and overwhelming crisis,” said singer Ricardo Montaner alongside Human Rights Watch at the launch of the #TodosConVenezuela, or Together with Venezuelans, campaign.
“Join me. It’s not just my job or yours, it’s something we should all do. Tell your friends—let’s do this together,” he continued.
The campaign, launched ahead of the Summit of the Americas where world leaders will discuss the situation in Venezuela, asks the public to tweet at Latin American presidents to confront Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro about government abuses.
Such abuses include the suppression of dissent as government critics are often arbitarily detained and prosecuted in military tribunals.
An estimated 700 civilians have been prosecuted in military courts for offenses such as rebellion and treason.
Numerous UN Special Rapporteurs also found “excessive and indiscriminate use of force” during anti-government protests.
“Protests must not be criminalized,” they said.
Meanwhile, Venezuela has been facing a severe economic crisis since global oil prices plummeted in 2014.
The South American nation now has the highest inflation rate in the world which now exceeds 6,000 percent, making it nearly impossible for Venezuelans to access medicine and food and causing a health crisis.
In one year alone, maternal mortality and infant mortality increased by 65 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. Over 80 per cent of the country now live in poverty.
Driven by the lack of access to basic services as well as political tensions, almost two million Venezuelans have left the country, causing the humanitarian crisis to spill over.
Carlos Miguele Machado told Human Rights Wach that he left his home country because he could not find medicine that his wife needed after undergoing thyroid surgery.
“I had to travel far, go from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for the medicine, and I could not find it—and it is very expensive in the black market,” he said.
Both Colombia and Brazil have seen the largest numbers of migrants crossing their borders in recent months. To date, over 1 million Venezuelans have reached Colombia while Brazil estimates that over 800 enters its country every day.
“As the complex political and socio-economic situation in their country continues to worsen, arriving Venezuelans are in more desperate need of food, shelter, and health care. Many also need international protection,” said UN High Comissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson William Spindler.
As public services in Brazil become more and more stretched in response to the inflows, UNCHR has ramped up its efforts to help register and house Venezuelans. The agency has opened up new shelters for vulnerable Venezuelans which are already almost at capacity.
In order to implement its regional response plan, UNCHR made an appeal of $46 million to donors. So far, it is only four percent funded.
Similarly, the International Organizaation for Migration (IOM) launched a regional action plan to strengthen response to the large-scale of flows of Venezuelans.
“IOM’s Regional Action Plan…represents a call for the international community to contribute to and strengthen the government efforts to receive and assist Venezuelans, so that those efforts may be sustained,” said IOM’s Regional Director for South America Diego Beltrand, encouraging host countries to adopt measures to help regularize Venezuelans’ stay.
World Food Programme Director David Beasely also urged the international community step up international donor funding in order to prevent the “humanitarian catastrophe” unraveling at the Colombian border.
“This could turn into an absolute disaster in unprecedented proportions for the Western Hemisphere,” Beasely said while visiting Colombia.
“I don’t think people around the world realize how bad the situation is and how much worse it could very well be,” he continued, pointing to the case of Syria’s crisis which began with a minor food emergency.
The upcoming presidential vote in May in Venezuela could determine the future of the country and its citizens.