The Caracas-based newspaper El Universal reports today that Colombian refugees in Venezuela will soon be eligible for micro-financing loans through a new program run jointly by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the government-run Banco del Pueblo Soberano (Sovereign Bank of the People).
William Spindler of the UNHCR announced the signing of the new micro-financing agreement last Friday. He explained that it gives low-interest loans to Colombian refugees and asylum seekers in the border states of Zulia, Táchira and Apure in order to promote self-employment projects in agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, and commerce.
The loans total about quarter of a million dollars, and are distributed among some 10,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers as well as 200,000 unregistered Colombians. Not only will beneficiaries receive start-up capital, they will also be eligible for training courses in business management, accounting, and other areas. The aim of the program is to stimulate economic development along the border of Venezuela and Colombia.
This is not the first pro-refugee initiative undertaken by UNHCR and the government of Venezuela. Last February, Venezuela began issuing refugee identification cards to Colombians displaced by violence. The state of Apure alone received 2,800 requests for such cards, which gave children the right to attend school. Last summer, UNHCR opened two new offices on the Venezuelan border.