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Venezuela refugee crisis to become far worse, UN-EU conference told

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Brussels (AFP)

The refugee wave in Latin America sparked by Venezuela's implosion will get worse next year, aggravating a regional crisis, a UN representative on the issue told a Brussels conference Monday.

"The challenges for 2020 will be even greater than those faced in 2019," Eduardo Stein, the special representative for the UN's refugee and migration agencies, told the event co-hosted with the European Commission.

"For the coming year we project the total number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants to pass from 4.5 million to 6.5 million," he said, warning that neighbouring countries were already struggling to host the arrivals.

- Crisis 'on an immense scale' -

The "unprecedented" situation as Venezuelan migrants and refugees flee their collapsing economy is generating "increasing levels of xenophobia" in the Latin American countries taking them in, he said, noting tightened entry requirements by some governments.

That, in turn, is driving the Venezuelan migrants underground where many became prey to sexual violence and exploitation.

The two-day conference, gathering representatives from the UN, EU, Latin American nations and aid organisations, aims to boost awareness of the specific needs faced by the countries.

Later, various sources said, a donors' conference could be called to drum up money to address the crisis.

Colombia, with 1.4 million Venezuelan immigrants, Peru (860,000), Chile (371,000), Ecuador (330,000) and Brazil (212,000) are on the frontline of the Venezuelan exodus.

Colombia's Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo told AFP that the number of Venezuelans in his country "meant big demand for services, for health treatment, assistance and education services, services for children".

He added: "This is truly a crisis on an immense scale. In numbers, it comes second after the crisis in Syria -- but it's first in terms of the growth rate in the number of migrants."

With Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro maintaining his grip on power with the support of the military, there are few prospects of the economic, political and social crisis in his once-rich, oil-producing nation being resolved soon.

The United Nations last December launched an appeal for $738 million (665 million euros) to help the Venezuelans and their host countries. This year, the amount to be requested is nearly double that.

Neither Maduro's government nor the Venezuelan opposition headed up by Juan Guaido were invited to the Brussels conference.

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