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‘Working round the clock’ to aid Venezuelan refugees and migrants during COVID-19 pandemic: UN agencies

Two United Nations agencies came together Tuesday to urge the international community not to overlook the on-going plight of millions of refugees and migrants from Venezuela, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the world.

IOM/Muse Mohammed
Steven of Venezuela and three friends attempt to hitchhike to the Paramo de Berlin (3,000m), the highest peak on their journey from Cucuta, Venezuela, to Bogota, Colombia.
IOM/Muse Mohammed Steven of Venezuela and three friends attempt to hitchhike to the Paramo de Berlin (3,000m), the highest peak on their journey from Cucuta, Venezuela, to Bogota, Colombia.

The deadly virus might have brought many aspects of life around the world to a standstill, but the humanitarian implications of the Venezuela crisis have not ceased, said the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in a joint statement. 

“Concerted action remains more necessary”, said Eduardo Stein, the joint UNHCR-IOM Special Representative for refugees and migrants from Venezuela. 

“We are urging the international community to boost its support for humanitarian, protection and integration programmes on which the lives of millions of people depend, including host communities”, Mr. Stein said. 

The number of Venezuelan migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers stood at 4.93 million as of 5 March, according to the Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V), which based its total on data provided by host countries.   

The biggest numbers are in Colombia, Peru and Chile, which together account for more than 1.8 million. 

Venezuela’s years-long political and economic crisis has left the country divided and impoverished, with dozens of countries withdrawing their support for President Nicolas Maduro, as the United States imposed new sanctions on the country last year. On Tuesday, the US reportedly offered to lift those sanctions, calling for a power-sharing deal. 

COVID-19 compounding refugee woes 

UNHCR and IOM emphasized that the worldwide COVID-19 emergency compounds an already desperate situation for many refugees and migrants from Venezuela and for the countries that have taken them in. Funding is urgently needed, they said, particularly as the economic impact of the pandemic begins to be felt across Latin America and the Caribbean. 

The Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform, co-led by IOM and UNHCR, is promoting the inclusion of refugees and migrants from Venezuela in national programmes combatting the virus.   

In close coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization, it is also working with national and local authorities to deliver basic support to refugees, migrants and host communities. 

Prevention and response measures

While abiding by physical distancing measures, humanitarian partners are implementing a number of prevention and response activities in the main locations where refugees and migrants are hosted, the UNHCR and IOM said, ensuring that people can access information, clean water, soap and appropriate waste disposal. 

“Organizations are working around the clock to find innovative ways to continue supporting the most vulnerable individuals in the current context while also supporting national authorities to set up observation and isolation spaces for potential positive COVID-19 cases”, the joint statement said. 

Since November 2019, a Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan has been responding to the most urgent needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela in 17 countries as well as those of host communities.  However, it has so far received only three per cent of requested funds – putting the future of lifesaving programmes throughout Latin America and the Caribbean at stake, the UNHCR and IOM warned.

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