Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said recently that a Navy hospital ship would be deployed to Colombia in an aid mission set to help the Venezuelan migrants there. According to the U.N., 2.3 million migrants are flooding away from Venezuela to places like Colombia (also to Ecuador, Brazil, and Peru) — that’s approximately 7% of its total population.
Mattis made sure to clarify: “It is absolutely a humanitarian mission. We’re not sending soldiers, we’re sending doctors,” according to the Miami Herald.
These hospital ships can provide world-class medical services to those in need, and talks with the governments in the area have already begun. Many are welcoming the idea of such an aid mission — the risk to the migrants is obvious. They need access to basic health care, clean water, food, hygiene products, shelter and other essentials. However, these sorts of events are also very taxing on host nations, as having a massive influx of people who require immediate assistance is going to strain any nation — from the most charitable to the those who would turn them away. They will likely welcome any assistance in the endeavor.
Due to the nature of the issue, and given that this crisis is originating out of Venezuela, Mattis confirmed that the ship would stay away from Venezuelan waters. Regardless, there is undoubtedly plenty of work to be done among the fleeing migrants as it is.
It’s in the best interest of other countries to pitch in during volatile times like these. It’s an honest humanitarian mission (that also makes for good press), but it also has strategic value. Places with huge amounts of unrest are breeding grounds for all sorts of nefarious activity — terrorism is the obvious one, though it may not be the case as much here (perhaps terrorist movement, but still a low likelihood). Human traffickers and drug smugglers also make it their business to take advantage of these situations, where chaos benefits them financially.
It’s not that the hospital ship is on some secret mission to combat these things — rather, if they assist in managing the massive influx of refugees, then these problems will naturally diminish. That’s not to say the intent isn’t a good one — it’s just that there is more than one valuable reason for aiding nations in times of need.