This is a summary of what was said by Philippa Candler, UNHCR’s Multi-Country Office Representative in Panama – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, colleagues and I are worried about the difficult living conditions of indigenous Warao families from Venezuela who are settled in remote locations across Guyana. Increased humanitarian presence and timely support from the international community is needed to help the Government of Guyana respond to the needs of these communities.
Guyana is home to an estimated 24,500 refugees and migrants from Venezuela, including some 2,500 indigenous Warao. Some have settled in hard-to-reach areas near the Venezuelan border and others in or around the towns of Mabaruma and Port Kaituma. Since early 2020, some 250 Warao also found refuge in Anabisi in northern Guyana, where I am heading later today. More than half of this group are children.
Access to services for these communities is limited and the delivery of aid is impeded by remoteness, lack of transport infrastructure and distances. Assessments conducted in October and November among Warao refugee and migrant households indicate mounting needs, aggravated by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most Warao have only one meal a day or less. Lacking formal job opportunities, many of them mention resorting to begging, working odd jobs, often in exchange for food, selling handicrafts or depending on humanitarian assistance. Most families also do not have access to drinking water, relying instead on rivers for drinking, as well as bathing and defecation.
Last week, my UNHCR colleagues received reports that one Warao child from the Anabisi community died and several others were hospitalized, reportedly due to malnutrition and diseases related to poor sanitation conditions. Some have since been discharged.
UNHCR is on the ground, coordinating with the Government and humanitarian partners on how to best support the government-led response.
UNHCR is delivering food hampers, solar lamps, mosquito nets, water purification tablets provided by the Guyanese Civil Defense Commission, and other basic relief items to some 400 indigenous Warao from Venezuela living in northern Guyana, including in the Anabisi community.
Together with partners, since 2019, we have been distributing material assistance, providing shelter and support to access education services to refugees, migrants and members of the host communities in this region and across Guyana to help improve living conditions. UNHCR also provides counselling, interpretation services and facilitates their access to government services including health programmes and vaccination against COVID-19.
Across the region, UNHCR supports national efforts to provide adequate shelter and access to food, medical and educational services for indigenous populations from Venezuela. UNHCR also works with the indigenous communities to strengthen their leadership structures, preserve their identity, and protect their traditional knowledge and cultural heritage.
In the framework of the inter-agency response for refugees and migrants from Venezuela, UNHCR works across 17 countries to respond to the plight of five million refugees and migrants from Venezuela hosted in Latin America and the Caribbean, including indigenous communities.
The Refugee and Migrant Response Plan to meet the needs of the Venezuelan refugees and migrants and their host communities in these 17 countries is only 43.6 per cent funded to date. The 2022 appeal will be launched on 9 December.
For more information on this topic, please contact:
- In Panama, Diana Diaz, firstname.lastname@example.org, +507 6646 3469
- In Panama, Olga Sarrado, email@example.com, +507 6640 0185
- In Panama, William Spindler, firstname.lastname@example.org, +507 6382 7815
- In Geneva, Aikaterini Kitidi, email@example.com, +41 79 580 8334
Originally published by UNHCR on 26 November 2021.