The United Nations has appealed for more humanitarian aid for Venezuelan refugees pouring into neighbouring countries, where they are overwhelming social services and reportedly sparking local tensions.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, planned to visit the Brazilian border town of Pacaraima, but authorities advised him to cancel due to protests by residents unhappy with the arrival of more than 500 Venezuelans a day, Reuters news agency reported on Sunday.
Pacaraima residents closed shops on Saturday and marched through the streets, raising slogans such as “Out with the Venezuelans”, “Pacaraima is ours”, “Out with the UN”, and “Brazil for Brazilians”.
The UN and NGOs put out a humanitarian appeal for $770m at the start of the year and have received less than $180m, Grandi said on Sunday after visiting Chile and Brazil.
“This is really one of the most underfunded humanitarian appeals in the world for one of the biggest crises,” he said.
Grandi said financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank have been engaged, but they need to speed up their aid to help sustain health and education systems.
“We protect the more vulnerable, but the rest has to be done by bigger actors with more money, and I don’t see that happening yet anywhere in the region,” he said.
The UNHCR estimates 4.3 million Venezuelans fled economic and political turmoil in their country, mainly to Colombia where there are 1.2 million and to Peru, Chile and Ecuador. Some 180,000 have stayed in Brazil.
In June, the Organization of American States said the Venezuelan exodus may exceed eight million people by the end of next year, which would make it the largest migration crisis in the world
The group’s projection puts the exodus between 7.5 million and 8.2 million in 2020, far surpassing the 6.7 million people who have fled war-torn Syria in eight years.
Grandi said there were signs of anti-immigrant sentiment spreading across the region, reflected in mounting restrictions on the movement of Venezuelans in Andean countries.
But he praised Chile, which has received 400,000 Venezuelans, for granting safe passage and a guarantee of asylum.
He also lauded the Brazilian Army for a “particularly good and very humane” operation to receive
Venezuelan refugees in the northern border state of Roraima, Brazil’s poorest, from where they are being relocated to other parts of the country.
Grandi said relocation had to be sped up because the refugee crisis was overburdening fragile services in the Roraima capital of Boa Vista, where thousands sleep in the street every night because shelters have run out of space.
“Millions of people came from Latin American to Venezuela when they escaped war, and now look at us,” Fernando Charris Lopez, a Venezuelan refugee in Brazil, told Al Jazeera.
“But it’s not easy, because when you go outside, the Brazilians look at us as if they want to kill us,” he said.
Without more aid, Grandi warned of growing hostility towards Venezuelans.
“In Boa Vista, I made an appeal for politicians to be balanced and act responsibly, and not use the unrest that could trigger forces bigger than anybody can control,” he said.