Political, human rights and socio-economic developments in Venezuela led to the largest movement of refugees and migrants in the recent history of Latin America and the Caribbean.
As of November 2020, around 5.4 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela were outside of their country of origin, with some 4.6 million others hosted in the region alone. This includes an estimated one million with an irregular status.
Despite the devastating and ongoing socioeconomic and human impact of COVID-19, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have continued to show great solidarity towards Venezuelans and to facilitate access to basic rights and lifesaving services as well as supporting their integration.
In a region characterised by high levels of informal labour, the implementation of measures aiming to curb the spread of COVID-19 (including border closures, lockdowns, curfews and other quarantine measures) has had a disproportionately grave impact on refugees and migrants.
Without savings or alternative social safety nets, the loss of employment has resulted in many being unable to cover basic needs or access vital services.
In this context, the Refugee and Migrant Response Plan 2021 is the result of field-driven planning, bringing together 158 appealing organisations in 17 countries, in consultation with host governments, civil society and faith-based organisations, local communities, donors, as well as the refugees and migrants themselves, with the common objective of addressing the overarching humanitarian, protection and socioeconomic integration needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela.
Already, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, have launched a $1.44 billion regional plan to respond to the growing needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela and the communities hosting them across 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, refugees and migrants from Venezuela have become even more vulnerable. Many are at risk of losing social and economic support to cover basic needs such as shelter, food or healthcare.
Many refugees and migrants and their host communities now face a myriad of new challenges that worsen their already precarious conditions.
Lockdowns, loss of livelihoods and impoverishment are forcing many to become increasingly dependent on emergency humanitarian assistance for their health, shelter, food, protection and education needs.
The impact of the pandemic is also resulting in a dramatic increase of gender-based violence and mental health needs, food insecurity, malnutrition and incidents of stigmatization.
Rising rates of evictions are also leaving many homeless and dependent on temporary accommodation provided by humanitarian organisations.
For refugees and migrants living in irregular situations, the struggle to access basic rights is even more acute.
The 2021 Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP) was however, launched on Thursday to meet these evolving needs.
Joint Special Representative of UNHCR and IOM for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, Eduardo Stein, says “prolonged, but necessary lockdown measures and mobility restrictions have had a detrimental impact on refugees’ and migrants’ capacity to maintain livelihoods and access to basic goods and services. Many have lost their livelihoods and simultaneously are not systematically included in social safety nets that have been established for local populations.”
Their dire situation has led some people to consider returning to Venezuela, often in unsafe conditions, raising additional protection and health concerns.
At the same time, the number of Venezuelans continuing to leave their country has also increased in recent weeks as lockdown measures ease and conditions there continue to deteriorate.
As borders remain closed, these movements take place mainly through irregular border crossings, exposing refugees and migrants to danger and great risk of physical and sexual abuse, discrimination as well as exploitation and trafficking.
Despite the challenges, there have been encouraging examples across the region of host countries working to ensure the inclusion of refugees and migrants in national responses to the pandemic, on par with their citizens.
Refugees and migrants are also supporting responses, with some working on the frontlines as health workers or disseminating information within their communities.
“The response plan announced today requires the continuous and increased commitment of the international community and the private sector to respond to this crisis. Refugees and migrants from Venezuela and their hosts require our collective support more than ever – both in terms of urgent life-saving, humanitarian assistance but also for development assistance to support local communities and long-term solutions”, Stein adds.
The 2021 RMRP intends to further strengthen the national and regional responses of host governments by supporting health, shelter, food and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions, as well as access to education, protection and integration where specific assistance and expertise is required, or where the governments’ own response capacities are overstretched.
The response plan brings together 158 organisations involved in the response, including United Nations agencies, international and national non-governmental organisations, civil society, faith-based organisations, and the Red Cross Movement.