SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The crisis in Venezuela grows more grave each day. Schools are closed because teachers aren't being paid, and the schools can no longer afford to serve lunch. Most hospitals are closed. There are shortages of just about everything - food, medicine, even the paper on which to print passports if people even try to leave. Many Venezuelans are fleeing the country on their own, across the border into Colombia and Brazil. Geoff Ramsey of the Washington Office on Latin America, the human rights group, has been visiting some of these migrant camps. He joins us now on FaceTime from Boa Vista, Brazil. Thanks very much for being with us, Mr. Ramsey.
GEOFF RAMSEY: Sure. Thank you for having me.
SIMON: What do you see in these camps?
RAMSEY: Well, the scale of humanitarian need here is drastic. Now, here in Brazil, they're allowed to seek temporary residency and legal employment. But on the other side of Venezuela in Colombia, authorities have actually added new restrictions that prevent Venezuelans from entry without a passport. And I have to say, the situation there is much more drastic.
SIMON: It is reported that about 4,000 people a day are crossing from Venezuela into Colombia. Is that right?
RAMSEY: That's right. That's what the U.N. says.
SIMON: What do some of the people in the camps tell you about life in Venezuela now?
RAMSEY: You know, the stories that we're hearing out of Venezuela are extremely grave. I - actually, I spoke with a Venezuelan woman today here in Brazil who is from the eastern town Amalthea (ph) who said that she had to leave because of the combination of the economic crisis and the shortage of medicines. She takes medication for a thyroid condition but said that her husband's salary working as a technician in the state oil company didn't even cover a week's worth of her medication, which now she can only find on the black markets.
SIMON: Do they want to go back to a changed Venezuela? Do they want to move on to somewhere where they can find work?
RAMSEY: It seems that it's about a mix. About roughly half of the Venezuelans that come here are trying to stay on the border area where they're trying to send money back to their family working in the informal sector. And about half are actually trying to seek some kind of formal status here as residents. And, you know, they're trying to find work in cities like Sao Paulo or Rio.
SIMON: Are humanitarian organizations set up to help the Venezuelan refugees?
RAMSEY: Yes. I mean, the biggest actor in all of this has been the U.N. Refugee Agency. That's the UNHCR. But, you know, the reality is that these organizations can only do so much without international supports. The UNHCR has said that they need $46 million from the international community for their response to the Venezuelan crisis this year alone
SIMON: Mr. Ramsey, just a few years ago, Venezuela was booming, wasn't it?
RAMSEY: It was. You know, Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. But due to a combination of falling oil prices, governmental mismanagement, you know, the situation has gotten extremely bad. There was a study that came out a couple months ago that found that over half of Venezuelans report losing weight in the last year with an average loss of 20 pounds. People are dying of treatable diseases because of a lack of medication.
SIMON: Do any of the refugees talk about the political situation?
RAMSEY: They do. And, you know, as you can imagine, it's not very positive in terms of their impression of the governments. The people who are fleeing Venezuela in many ways are voting with their feet.
SIMON: Geoff Ramsey, researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America, thanks so much for being with us.
RAMSEY: Thank you.
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