The economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has pushed 3.9 million persons to migrate or flee, according to recent estimates of the Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants in the troubled country.
The figure is bursting out as the 15-year-old Nelsmar, who attended a middle-class school in central Venezuela not long ago, is now in Colombia. Her family is one of those uprooted by the crisis.
Nelsmar’s family made the move over a year ago. They walked for eight days, and spent the rest of the journey traveling by bus, before reaching the border with Colombia. When they arrived in the border city of Cúcuta, she thought the worst was over – but she was wrong.
For weeks, Nelsmar slept either on the street or in a boarding house with shared toilet facilities. Her family struggled to access shampoo, sanitary napkins or even a flashlight to light the way at night.
‘’When you don’t have the means to bathe or change clothes, or you don’t have enough money, something as natural as one’s menstrual period becomes a real challenge’’, Nelsmar told the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
There are 1.2 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees living in Colombia, and large numbers continue to pour over the border. Many bypass immigration controls.
The mass displacement has led to a heightened risk of sexual violence and exploitation. According to the organisation CEPAZ, some 37 per cent of migrant women have reportedly experienced some form of violence.
Many migrants are also in need of health services.
‘’The aim of our work was to provide opportunities for the discussion of sexual and reproductive rights, prevent gender-based violence and sexual violence, and share information about the places victims of aggression can go to for care’’, explained Dildar Salamanca, a UNFPA field coordinator in Cúcuta, the Colombian city that has received the largest number of Venezuelan migrants in recent years.
In Cúcuta and the city of Maicao, some 2,300 dignity kits have been distributed, and 2,600 women have been reached with contraceptives. More than 2,300 women and adolescents have received information about sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence.
Strength and resilience
Despite the extraordinary challenges, Salamanca says he has seen that “migrant women and adolescent girls are extremely strong, resilient and capable of rising above the hostility of life.”
Nelsmar is one such example.
Today, she is living in Cúcuta, where she attends a new school and watches over her siblings when her parents work. She has even joined a group of volunteers who meet on Saturdays to work on youth issues.
Asked how she feels about her situation, she replied firmly, ‘’well, my dreams are still intact.’’