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Over $3 billion raised for Venezuelan refugees amid coronavirus pandemic

"The plight of Venezuelan refugees and migrants has worsened even further," said Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.
Image: Venezuela
Men wearing protective masks walk in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 23, 2020. Carlos Becerra / Getty Images

MIAMI — Sixty countries pledged around $3.4 billion in emergency aid for Venezuelan refugees who have fled the economic collapse in their country and are now in neighboring nations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

About 5 million Venezuelan refugees have fled in recent years to nearby countries like Colombia, Peru and Chile. Now, as jobs have dried up in those countries because of the pandemic, thousands of Venezuelan migrant workers are seeking to return home.

But experts warn that crowding in low-income neighborhoods and the lack of water in hospitals and homes create a scenario for the virus to spread quickly.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Venezuela suffers in one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, which has spiraled under President Nicolás Maduro.

Its health care system is "grossly unprepared" for the pandemic, with shortages of medications and supplies and interruptions of basic utilities, according to Human Rights Watch. As of Tuesday, it had 1,177 confirmed cases of COVID-19, although Human Rights Watch believes the real number is much higher "given the limited availability of reliable testing, limited transparency, and the persecution of medical professionals and journalists who report on this issue."

"The plight of Venezuelan refugees and migrants has worsened even further," Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said during a virtual pledging conference hosted by the European Union, Canada, Spain, Norway and the United Nations. "The impact of COVID-19 is dramatic for countries across Latin America and the Caribbean and has pushed the Venezuelans living there into a spiral of poverty and despair."

The U.S. pledged $200 million in assistance, including over $139 million in humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans inside the country and in the region. The U.S. says it is the largest donor of assistance to Venezuelans, having contributed over $856 million.

The Venezuelan government instituted a nationwide quarantine on March 17, restricting movement and ordering all businesses to close except those considered essential.

Despite having the world's largest oil reserves, Venezuela has little gasoline as a result of mismanagement, corruption, a spiraling economy and over a year of U.S. sanctions. The first of five Iranian oil tankers delivered 1.5 million barrels of gasoline to Venezuela.

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Reuters contributed.