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UN seeks more aid for Venezuelan refugees

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BRASILIA (Reuters) – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi appealed on Sunday for more humanitarian aid for Venezuelan refugees pouring into neighbouring countries where they are overwhelming social services and sparking local tensions.

Grandi had planned to visit the Brazilian border town of Pacaraima this weekend, but authorities advised him to cancel due to protests by residents unhappy with the arrival of more than 500 Venezuelans a day.

Pacaraima residents closed shops on Saturday and marched through the streets to shouts of “Out with the Venezuelans,” “Pacaraima is ours,” “Out with the U.N.,” and “Brazil for Brazilians.”

The UNHCR estimates 4.3 million Venezuelans have 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.

“This is really one of the most under-funded humanitarian appeals in the world for one of the biggest crises,” he said.

Financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank are engaged but need to speed up their help, he said, 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.

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 migrants in the northern border state of Roraima, Brazil’s poorest, from where they are being relocated to other parts of the country.

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