Hospital Ship USNS Comfort Deploys to Help Venezuelan Refugees

USNS Comfort during her previous tour in Latin America, seen here off Peru in October 2018 (USN)

By The Maritime Executive 05-07-2019 08:35:01

The hospital ship USNS Comfort will soon be deployed for another voyage to South America in response to the political and economic crisis in Venezuela. 

Comfort last deployed to the region in October, when she got under way for a four-month medical assistance mission to Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Honduras - all nations that have seen an influx of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees. "It's an effort to deal with the human cost of [Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro, and his increasingly isolated regime,” said then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, speaking during a visit to Colombia last August. 

The exact itinerary has not yet been announced, but Comfort's mission for this voyage has a similar purpose to her last trip. According to U.S. Southern Command, Comfort's crew will "help relieve pressure on host nation medical systems in countries hosting Venezuelans who have fled the country's crisis."

"The USNS Comfort represents our enduring promise to our partners in the Western Hemisphere — our shared neighborhood," said Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, the commander of U.S. Southern Command, which will oversee the deployment. "U.S. Southern Command is committed to the region in support of our Caribbean and Latin American partners, as well as displaced Venezuelans who continue to flee the brutal oppression of the former Maduro regime and its interlocking, man-made political, economic and humanitarian crises."

As of February, the estimated number of refugees who have fled Venezuela to other Latin American and Caribbean countries stood at 2.7 million people, according to a United Nations assessment; when including all destination countries worldwide, the total now exceeds three million. This includes an estimated 1.1 million people who fled to Colombia, along with 500,000 in Peru, 290,000 in Chile, 220,000 in Ecuador and another 130,000 in Argentina. The UN estimates that an additional 5,000 people leave Venezuela every day. 

"These figures underscore the strain on host communities and the continued need for support from the international community, at a time when the world’s attention is on political developments inside Venezuela,” said UNHCR Special Representative for Venezuela Eduardo Stein in February.