OTTAWA — Canada outbid its two rivals for the United Nations Security Council at Tuesday’s international pledging conference to help South American countries coping with the Venezuelan refugee crisis and COVID-19.
Canada increased its support for the cause by $27 million, compared with a $1.5-million pledge by Ireland and Norway’s $6.7 million.
The pledges were broadcast during a three-and-a-half-hour password-protected video conference, where each country’s representatives talked in turn about the importance of the cause. Millions of Venezuelans have fled into neighbouring nations, away from the repressive government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Patrick Haughey, the humanitarian director of Irish Aid, said on the broadcast that the “solidarity and generosity of neighbouring countries who continue to offer refuge to Venezuelan people in their time of need” was commendable. “But it is not for them alone to address this crisis.”
He said that Ireland’s $1.5-million pledge was in addition to the $45 million it had already contributed in ”core support” to international agencies dealing with the crisis.
It was a rare victory for Canada in an international spending metric: its bid for a temporary seat on the UN’s powerful Security Council is regularly criticized by experts who point out that Norway and Ireland both spend far more, per capita, on international development.
The two European countries also deploy more peacekeepers to UN missions than Canada, another area that is seen as crucial in showing a commitment to the UN.
All three countries are competing for two non-permanent seats on the council, for a two-year term starting next year. The UN General Assembly is to vote on the matter next month.
The Trudeau government has touted its post-pandemic international leadership on a variety of fronts as its campaign for the council. It says Canada will be a key player in the post-COVID-19 reconstruction of the world, which will include spurring economic recover yin rich and poor countries alike.
International Development Minister Karina Gould announced the additional Canadian contribution, which brings Canada’s spending on the humanitarian crisis in its Western Hemisphere neighbourhood to $80 million over the past two years.
“We would be doing it whether we were in the race for the Security Council or not,” Gould said in an interview.
“In the context of the UN Security Council, what it demonstrates is Canada is a leader when it comes to responding to international crises but also when it comes to providing innovative solutions and innovative ideas in terms of how we can get broader support for these regional crises,” she added.
“We’ve been a strong partner for countries in the region and that’s exactly what we would keep doing, and it’s the kind of action countries can expect from us on the security council.”
The European Union and Spain hosted the conference, seeking to alleviate the strain on countries such as Colombia, Peru and Ecuador that have borne the brunt of the second-worst refugee crisis on the planet.
Canada has agreed to host the next pledging conference expected for early next year.
The health and education systems of Venezuela’s neighbouring countries are under increasing strain as they absorb five million refugees while coping with COVID-19.
Colombia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Claudia Blum said her country has welcomed 1.8 million Venezuelan refugees, giving them access to health care and allowing children to attend public schools. But the demand on its public systems is going to grow with the Venezuelan refugee count expected to increase to 6.5 million by year’s end, including 2.4 million people in Colombia.
“Our country has welcomed them with a spirit of solidarity,” said Blum, noting that 370,000 Venezuelan children are enrolled in Colombian public schools, and 800,000 migrants have been treated in its health-care system.
“Colombian agencies are addressing great challenges in providing social services to this population. However, my country cannot cover the cost of assisting the great number of Venezuelan migrants alone, particularly under the COVID-19 emergency.”
Rema Jamous Imseis, the UN refugee agency’s Canadian representative, said the pandemic has created obstacles to helping refugees because of closed borders and physical distancing measures.
“The support is welcomed because we have needs that existed as a result of the Venezuela displacement crisis which predate COVID but, as you can imagine, those needs have been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic. Our funding remains critically low.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2020.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press