The number of Venezuelan migrants in Guyana could reach 33,000 by the end of the year, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates.
The close proximity of Region One communities to the border with Venezuela, with easy access in and out of the country by boat, has seen the migrant population balloon over the years with Venezuelans fleeing political and economic turmoil.
The pressure this has put on local systems was made clear over the past week as hundreds flocked Mabaruma and Port Kaituma in Region One for a medical outreach.
“The growing number of migrants from Venezuela has really placed an increased burden and pressure on the resources, which the country has to address and to provide basic services to the community – health, education, housing, water, and a number of other services,” said Robert Natiello, Regional Coordination Officer for the Caribbean and Chief of Mission in Guyana said.
Apart from residents of Region One, those seeking medical care at the outreach included hundreds of migrants, including the indigenous Warrau people.
The medical outreach is being carried out by a team from the U.S. Global Medical and Surgical Support Group and a large group of local volunteer doctors, nurses and support staff.
It was organised by the Office of the First Lady (with the support of the Guyana Defence Force), the U.S. Embassy’s Humanitarian Assistance Program, the IOM, the Guyana Medical Relief, the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana and others.
Natiello recognised that multi-stakeholder cooperation is needed to address “this migration challenge that we’re facing in Guyana.”
First Lady Arya Ali noted that the IOM has done “very special work” in Region One “in support of migrants fleeing hardships in their country and trying to get them settled into a new life here.”
She said the work of the IOM is immeasurable and she expressed gratitude to the organisation for its work and the key role it played in supporting and organising the medical outreach.
The IOM has recognised the leading role Guyana is playing in support of migrants.
“…unlike a number of other countries in the region, the government of Guyana has shown great leadership and great solidarity allowing persons to stay in the country and to integrate in country,” he said, noting that many of the migrants are in vulnerable situations.
The U.S. Ambassador to Guyana, Sarah-Ann Lynch, also recognised this.
“The Government of Guyana has been clear that it does not discriminate when it comes to those seeking medical attention at its facilities, and I want to amplify and support that message,” she stated.
Natiello commended the Regional Administration in Region One and other local authorities for doing their best to help.
The nearness of the Guyana/Venezuela border to Region One has meant that hundreds of migrants have set up makeshift homes and found other ways to settle in the Region.
“When I visited the outreach at Port Kaituma, and I saw the number of persons going to have dental works or persons there for ultrasound, persons who were there for general medicine, I was taken aback and realised how much more we need to do as a region to provide more services to the remote communities of our Region,” said Brentnol Ashley, the chairman of Region One.
The U.S. Ambassador recognised the work the IOM and other UN agencies have been doing to ensure those fleeing from hardship are not exposed to exploitation or trafficking and she commended the local authorities for their work in seeking to ensure the Region remains safe and to ensure those who are living in the Region “can live free from fear.”
Since 2017, she said the U.S. government has provided US$10 million to support UN agencies in their work. Those organisations doing work in Region One include the United Nations Refugee Agency, which also supported the medical outreach.
“Venezuela continues to be the largest humanitarian crisis in the hemisphere,” she said, noting that the U.S funding has been used to support health, education and protection for migrants.
“We remain committed to this assistance in order to stabilise the effects of this crisis, which has affected millions of Venezuelans across the continent,” she stated.
Regarding the health care situation, the First Lady said she was aware of the many, many challenges which prevent people from accessing quality healthcare in interior Regions, but said President Irfaan Ali “is very, very committed to ending the equalities in our country, and especially in a sector such as health care.”
She recognised that the cooperation of many persons and organisations is needed as was evidenced from the medical outreach.
“In just two days, hundreds of people have benefitted from free medical services and supplies…and this served as a reminder that more activities of this nature are needed in remote areas of the country,” the First Lady stated.