The international community urgently needs to step up funding to support hundreds of thousands of refugees from Venezuela, warns the aid organization CARE. More than 1.5 million Venezuelans have fled their country over the past year as a result of high levels of violence, lack of food, medicine and access to essential social services. “The situation is extremely alarming as more and more Venezuelans are reaching Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and other countries in the region. Families with small children walk for weeks by foot, unable to afford other means of transportation. Outside Venezuela, they are urgently looking for work to meet their basic needs,” says Alexandra Moncada, Country Director for CARE in Ecuador, where approximately 350,000 Venezuelans have sought refuge. It is estimated that around 2,500 Venezuelans are crossing the border to Ecuador every day.
According to a recent assessment by CARE, refugees urgently require medical health and hygiene services, psychosocial support and legal counseling. CARE found that 60 percent of the refugees in Ecuador have no legal documentation, and are hence extremely vulnerable and an easy target for labor and sexual exploitation networks. “A visa in Ecuador costs around $550. But in Venezuela, people are not earning more than a few dollars per month ($8 being the monthly minimum wage) People have come with nothing but the clothes they are wearing. We are particularly worried about the effect this illegal status has on women and children,” Moncada says.
In Colombia, the situation is similarly dire. The current political tensions make Venezuelan refugees particularly vulnerable, with reports of young men recruited to fight in guerrilla groups or for narcotics trafficking and young women and girls trapped in sexual trafficking increasing. “There is no mechanism in place to guaranty rights of refugees. Ecuador and Colombia’s local capacities are stretched, and with no official camps host communities and basic infrastructure are overwhelmed.” In total, 1.3 million refugees from Venezuela have fled to Ecuador and Columbia since January 2018.
To respond to the staggering needs, CARE Ecuador is appealing for $4 million to support refugees in Ecuador and neighboring Colombia. CARE is planning to focus on raising awareness for and preventing gender-based violence, given the high protection and especially human trafficking risks. CARE also aims to provide the most vulnerable refugees with food security, health service referrals, psychosocial and legal support as well as information management. In Colombia, CARE Ecuador is already working through partners to address gender-based violence and dignified work, and is looking into including refugees from Venezuela in its response. CARE International has released $200,000 out of its Emergency Response Fund to start its response.
“People are reporting that they eat only one meal per day, children are coming in very bad health condition, and pregnant women are crossing the borders to give birth in Brazil and Colombia, reporting they don’t have any other option due to the lack of health services in Venezuela,” Moncada says.
CARE Ecuador will continue to monitor the situation closely and assess the needs of those affected as conditions are expected to deteriorate further in the coming weeks.