Remarks as prepared
Ambassador Sarah-Ann Lynch
In Observance of World Refugee Day 2021
June 22, 2021
Representatives of the Government of Guyana;
Director of HIAS, Alex Theran;
Colleagues from UNHCR;
Members of the diplomatic corps;
Members of the media;
Ladies and Gentlemen – Good Morning.
It’s a pleasure to be with you all today, on such an auspicious and important occasion. Marking this day together reminds us all that we have work to do, so that refugees are not ignored, and I am very happy that we can be together in person to commemorate World Refugee Day.
Across the globe millions of people have been forced to flee their homes as a result of conflict, persecution or repression. Right in our own hemisphere, the Venezuelan exodus is one of the largest mass migrations in the world, as people continue to leave their country in search of life’s most basic needs – food, medicine, fuel and housing. These Venezuelans are simply looking for a place where their families will be safe and their children will not go hungry. In 2017, I travelled to Cucuta, Colombia on the Venezuelan-Colombian border and saw first-hand what the political and economic crisis was doing to the people of Venezuela. I witnessed droves of Venezuelan citizens walking over the Simon Bolivar Bridge into Colombia.
Some were planning to stay for a long time, some for a few days, and some just for a few hours to get a good meal, maybe a day job, or a few dollars for their hair. Yes – their hair. Many of the women I met with had left their homes in Venezuela to sell their hair in Colombia to help feed their children back in Venezuela. “How could this have happened?” one woman said to me as a local church volunteer served her a donated lunch. Venezuela was once one of the richest countries in the region – around the globe even. What I observed on that trip will never leave me, and I have been proud to have helped design and implement programs to help the Venezuelan people ever since.
In fact, the United States has done quite a lot to help some of the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have fled their country since 2015. This exodus is historic – considered to be the largest external displacement of persons in the Hemisphere’s history. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) is the lead U.S. agency mandated to respond to refugee and migration crises, in close coordination with other U.S. agencies, including USAID.
- In 2020, the United States provided nearly $5 million for the Venezuela response in Guyana, including $435,000 specifically earmarked to respond to COVID-19.
- The United States currently supports UNHCR, IOM, UNICEF, the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), and HIAS to implement activities in Guyana to respond to the protection needs of vulnerable Venezuelan migrants and asylum-seekers.
- USG funding in Guyana includes:
- Ensuring access to basic needs including food, shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene, health, and psychosocial services;
- Improving access to inclusive and quality education services, including for indigenous Venezuelan communities;
- Supporting access to formal livelihood opportunities through vocational training, diploma validation, and community-based initiatives;
- Providing protection for children and against gender-based violence;
- Developing campaigns to enhance social cohesion, local integration opportunities, and strengthening communication in refugee and migrant communities;
- Supporting Government registration and documentation efforts;
- In addition, our funding supports PADF in its programs for migrants that increase access to legal status, promote social integration, and access psychosocial resources and public services such as housing, health, and education; and
- And, our funding supports HIAS in its programs to improve mental health and resilience; reduce the risk of gender-based violence and human trafficking; and support for trafficking survivors with access to quality response services;
Finally, the U.S. is also sponsoring a Women’s Academy of Entrepreneurs in Region 2, that is helping to train 13 Venezuelan businesswomen in strengthening their businesses, and our American Corner at the National Library is planning English classes for Spanish speakers.
The United States is honored to provide support for these refugees and migrants, and we will continue to do so, as long as there is need. Our Ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield, just last week announced another $407 million in new humanitarian assistance for the response to the Venezuelan regional crisis, including inside Venezuela.
I applaud our partners at HIAS and PADF for their important work in Guyana. And, I applaud the people and government of Guyana.
Since this recent crisis began in 2015, Guyana did not shut its doors on the Venezuelan community – despite the strain that this has put on local communities in terms of security, health, education and economics.
The Government of Guyana’s close coordination with UN agencies on assistance, and studies regarding migration flows are vital and will better inform Guyana’s migration policy. And, as Guyana’s economic transformation begins to draw people from around the world, we look forward to continuing this work together, ensuring that those fleeing from crisis are safe and that sustainable migration policies are in place, in concert with international organizations. And, the United States will be here to assist.