Statement by U.S. Ambassador Joseph N. Mondello, Commemorating World Refugee Day – June 20, 2020
Today the United States of America joins people from Trinidad and Tobago and around the world in recognizing the 20th annual World Refugee Day.
U.S. humanitarian assistance reaches tens of millions of displaced and vulnerable people worldwide by providing a variety of essential services like food, access to clean water, and education. This commitment to the world’s most vulnerable communities remains a critical component of U.S. national security policy.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has identified the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis as the largest in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Hospitals in Venezuela lack equipment, medicine, and basic health supplies, including water and vaccines, which has led to a resurgence of preventable diseases. COVID-19 is further exacerbating an already depleted health system. Electrical blackouts are the norm – leading to shortages of clean drinking water. Food is scarce with over 9 million Venezuelans moderately or severely in need of food assistance. Over five million Venezuelans have been forced to flee their homes by the corrupt Maduro regime, with many thousands desperately finding their way to the shores of Trinidad and Tobago.
The United States remains committed to boosting local efforts to assist displaced Venezuelans and refugees, and the gracious Trinbagonian communities that host them. In fact, we have spent seven million U.S. dollars over the last three fiscal years to help efforts right here in Trinidad and Tobago.
I was pleased to deliver the keynote at last year’s launch of the USAID-funded Community Resilience Initiative, which continues to operate through local partners Living Water Community, Ryu Dan Dojo Youth Empowerment Center, Families in Action, and Drama Making a Difference to foster positive social interactions and trust between Trinbagonians and Venezuelans in Arima, Chaguanas, Couva, Mayaro, Port of Spain, and Rio Claro.
Last September, we partnered with the Ministry of Health and the Trinidad and Tobago Defense Force to facilitate a visit from the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort, which provided medical services, optometry, dentistry, and physical therapy to over 6,000 Venezuelan and Trinbagonian patients in Cedros and Point Fortin. With humanitarian assistance from the U.S. Southern Command, the U.S. Embassy collaborated with local volunteer medical providers to host other clinics for over 2,000 additional patients in Rio Claro, La Brea, and Debe.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S.-based non-governmental organization Spirit of America partnered with TTV Solidarity Network to distribute food hampers to over 400 Venezuelan and Trinbagonian families in need. The University of the West Indies, in partnership with the Pan-American Development Foundation and with funding from the United States, designed training for volunteer teachers to provide vital English skills that reduce barriers to accessing basic services and employment opportunities, thereby enabling people to live with dignity.
The United States of America appreciates and applauds Trinbagonians, especially those whose own resources are already scarce, who have opened their communities and continue to make critical contributions to support the people of Venezuela. We welcomed the effort by the Trinidad and Tobago government, through last year’s registration process, to expand opportunities for 16,523 displaced Venezuelans and refugees to thrive in their new host communities through increased access to legal employment, basic healthcare, and testing for COVID-19. We are encouraged by the government’s commitment to extend the registration through the end of the year.
While the United States of America is pleased to join the local Venezuelan response, many challenges remain. The population influx straining the already limited capacity of host communities will only continue as long as the Maduro regime remains in power. Free and fair presidential elections are the solution.
Through our full array of assistance, we will continue to work with the people and government of Trinidad and Tobago and our local, international, and non-governmental humanitarian partners. On this World Refugee Day and going forward we must all band together to alleviate these challenges and identify long-term solutions.