A mother holds her baby.

A mother holds her baby as she crosses the Simón Bolívar Bridge, Cúcuta, Colombia, April 2019. © UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch  to whom quoted text may be attributed  at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is warning of unprecedented levels of trauma and despair among newly arrived refugees and migrants from Venezuela. Many arrive in dire conditions to host communities hard hit by the pandemic. Urgent support is critically needed to protect and assist them.

As borders remain closed across the region, people are crossing through informal routes where illegal armed actors and smuggling and trafficking networks operate. Rapid field assessments indicate that approximately 500-700 people are exiting Venezuela every day. This exposes them to heightened risks of violence, exploitation, and trafficking. Some report having faced theft, extortion, violence and abuse in transit and border zones, during their journey to safety.

Of the new arrivals to Colombia, UNHCR’s field reports indicate that approximately 70 per cent have made the journey by foot, some with just the clothes on their backs.  As conditions inside Venezuela continue to deteriorate, many arrive in Colombia weak and in a state of poor nutrition, having faced impoverishment and hardship for many months.

UNHCR field staff in border areas are observing noticeable increases of single women, men and children arriving in extremely precarious states. Among them are unaccompanied children and adolescents who have left or been separated from their families.

Many are suffering from trauma and distress, and require immediate protection and humanitarian assistance, including health, shelter, food and counselling. Unaccompanied and separated children, people with disabilities and indigenous populations also require specialized care and protection arrangements.

With closed borders, many are forced to enter Colombia and other host countries through unofficial border crossings, which makes it difficult for them to regularize their status. As a result, they have limited access to basic rights and services and are also at risk of evictions, trafficking, forced labour or sexual exploitation. The fear of being detained or deported also inhibits some refugees and migrants from approaching humanitarian organizations for support, as well as the competent authorities.

In the context of a massive economic downturn and with the pandemic affecting the region, host communities can be hesitant or resistant to welcome new arrivals.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic and associated mobility restrictions, UNHCR and partners continue to adapt humanitarian activities to respond to intensified needs.

UNHCR has stepped up its operational response at border areas in coordination with partners and relevant authorities, reinforcing reception capacities, increasing health and psychosocial support services, providing emergency shelters, distributing food and hygiene kits and expanding cash transfer programmes, especially in Colombia and Brazil.

As part of a joint inter-agency and civil society and Church-led effort, UNHCR is also working to reactivate networks to provide safe spaces, frontline assistance, information and orientation for Venezuelans on the move.

UNHCR continues to advocate with and support host countries to provide international protection to those in need. Coordinated efforts have been put in place by countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, in the context of the Quito Process, to work on ways to promote safe and regular movements across the region, ensure protection of the most vulnerable and work towards the socio-economic inclusion of Venezuelan refugees and migrants.

On Thursday, 159 humanitarian organizations, as part of the Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform (R4V) launched a USD 1.44 billion plan to respond to the growing needs of the 4.6 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean and the communities hosting them. The plan aims to respond to growing needs that have been severely exacerbated this year as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic. Support from the international community remains essential to bolster the humanitarian efforts and help host countries preserve available protection space and ensure peaceful coexistence.

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Originally published by UNHCR on 11 December 2020.

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