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A Forgotten Crisis

Health facilities, soup kitchens, and informal crossings lie interspersed along the 1,400-mile frontier between Colombia and Venezuela; reminders of the humanitarian crisis that has continued unabated for the last eight years.

Since 2014, there has been an 8,000 per cent increase in the number of Venezuelans seeking refugee status, 1.7 million of whom have traversed the hazardous border regions into Colombia. Known as caminantes (Spanish for ‘walkers’), those who are forced to make the journey on foot face even greater risks from exploitation, extortion, and violence.  

As a result of COVID-19, the border between Venezuela and Colombia has remained officially closed since March 2020, forcing refugees to try their luck at informal crossing points or trochas that act as magnets for criminal activity. The Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS) estimates 162,000 caminantes will attempt this journey in 2021. Despite these challenges, political and economic instability, hunger, and severe shortages of basic medicine continue to fuel an exodus of Venezuelans from their home country.  

How has the world reacted to the worst refugee crisis in Latin American history? The response so far has been torpid.  

UNHCR notes that more than two thirds of refugees around the world come from only five countries: Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Venezuela. However, there is a significant disparity in funding. Earlier this year, the Washington-based Brookings Institute published data comparing funding of the most urgent crises around the world, the results of which were telling.  

Last year’s figures indicate that an average of $3,150 was delivered per Syrian refugee, $1,390 per South Sudanese, and just $265 per Venezuelan. Without sufficient monetary support, host countries like Colombia are in danger of buckling under the weight of mass displacement.  

What is RedR UK Doing to Help?  

In the summer of 2020, we issued an online survey to humanitarian staff working in the region, asking about their training needs. Nearly three out of four respondents rated ‘protection of vulnerable groups’ as essential, followed by ‘shelter in emergencies’.  

In response to this and the evolving needs of Venezuelan refugees, RedR UK will respond to the crisis in the best way we know how; by providing world-class training for individuals and organisations involved in the crisis. By building knowledge and skills on protection, shelter, and gender-based violence, more effective humanitarian action can be taken.  

Shelter in Urban Emergencies 

Host countries such as Colombia need assistance to provide adequate shelter for those arriving from across the border. 32% of migrants in Colombia have no access to housing, making them particularly vulnerable to the consequences of poverty.   

Shelter must be factored into the humanitarian response in Colombia, and to this end, RedR UK is currently running a six-week training course on designing and implementing interventions related to accommodation. This will include training on needs assessments, identifying problems of land use, and participating in the design of an accommodation strategy, all within the context of the Venezuelan refugee crisis. 

Introduction to Humanitarian Protection 

The majority of migrants and refugees from Venezuela are families including children, the elderly, and pregnant women. Even upon arrival in their host countries, informal status and lack of documentation can spell danger for refugees and migrants.  

Humanitarian protection is essential to ensure that vulnerable groups can arrive and remain safely in Colombia. Our two-day course on protection will offer practical solutions; participants will learn and be taught how to implement the principles of protection, and how to effectively analyse the protection needs of Venezuelan migrants.

Responding to Gender-based Violence 

Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to the dangers that accompany displacement. According to a report by the Bogotá-based Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), sex trafficking of Venezuelan migrants and refugees is rife in the northern borderlands of Colombia, where criminal and armed groups are extant. While 13 per cent of women have reported suffering some form of violence during their journey into Colombia, the International Organization for Migration acknowledges this figure is likely far higher due to the under-reporting of violence against women.  

Gender-based violence is a critical issue for Venezuelan refugees, not least those who travel alone or must care for family, as many migrant women do. Economic instability and lack of access to resources due the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these issues, and must be factored into the humanitarian response.  

RedR UK is running a two-day course; ‘Responding to Gender-based Violence During the COVID-19 Pandemic’ that will focus specifically on the context and needs of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia. By focusing on vulnerability assessments, mitigation and response using a survivor-centred approach, we hope this training will enable individuals and organisations to respond effectively to gender-based violence