European Union-funded hygiene kits for Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Lima, Peru. Photo by: S.Castañeda / European Union / CC BY-NC-ND

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Refugee Agency on Thursday launched a $1.44 billion appeal to meet the needs of Venezuelan refugees and migrants and host communities in 2021.

As COVID-19 has badly battered Latin America and the Caribbean, the number of Venezuelans in need has increased while appeals have remained underfunded. Many refugees and migrants rely on informal employment that has disappeared during the pandemic, leaving them unable to pay rent, purchase basic supplies, or access health care.

Of the more than 5.4 million Veneuzelans who have left their country, an estimated 4.6 million remain in Latin America and the Caribbean. The 2021 Refugee and Migrant Response Plan would serve 3.3 million of the estimated 7.2 million people in need, including those in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil.

“They require our collective support more than ever – both in terms of the urgently required humanitarian assistance as well as in terms of longer-term development approaches that aim at sustainable solutions,” wrote Eduardo Stein, UNHCR-IOM joint special representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, in the RMRP.

“Today, more than ever, we must show states and host communities our support and solidarity with the multiple challenges they are facing.”

— Filippo Grandi, U.N. high commissioner for refugees

“In addition to the grave health risks that mobile populations, including those in vulnerable situations, have been exposed to, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread economic disruptions and exacerbated protection concerns.”

The COVID-19 response requires $410 million, with Colombia having the highest need.

Of the estimated 7.2 million people in need, 3.84 million are Venezuelans who have arrived at their destination, while 285,000 are still in transit. An additional 992,000 are considered “pendulares,” or migrants that regularly cross into and out of Venezuela. The majority of Venezuelans who have fled the widespread economic and political collapse in their country are currently in Colombia, which closed its official border with Venezuela in March.

Irregular crossings continue through points known as “trochas,” with some Venezuelans returning to their country earlier this year as the impacts of the pandemic became too great. Now, some of those people are again leaving Venezuela but are likely to encounter the same difficulties abroad; migrants and refugees have become increasingly dependent on humanitarian assistance to survive as economic activity remains restricted.

Because of pandemic-related livelihood loss, many refugees and migrants have been left homeless and without access to appropriate food, health care, education, and protection.

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“The rise in irregularity — which now affects more than a third of refugees and migrants — as a result of pandemic-related border closures, restrictions on movement, as well as expired visas or residence permits, remains a major challenge, exposing people to serious risks of violence, abuse, and exploitation,” said Filippo Grandi, U.N. high commissioner for refugees, at a launch event Thursday.

Xenophobia is expected to rise as host communities continue to experience adverse economic fallout from the pandemic, the RMRP said. Lockdowns have also led to heightened mental health needs and gender-based violence and have caused food insecurity and malnutrition to rise.

The 2021 RMRP said 1.75 million people in host communities need assistance, as countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have struggled to finance services for millions of Venezuelan refugees and migrants. Integration activities receive the largest allocation of any sector in the response plan, at $264 million. The second-largest sectoral need is health, at $212 million, while $247 million is needed for multipurpose cash assistance.

In 2020, the Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, known as R4V, served 2.2 million people, including Venezuelan refugees and migrants and members of host communities. A total of 158 organizations collaborate on the platform, including international and national NGOs, the Red Cross, civil society, and U.N. agencies.

The 2020 appeal called for over $782 million to assist Venezuelan refugees and migrants but, as of Dec. 1, had only been 37.5% funded.

“In 2021, Latin America and the Caribbean will face immense challenges,” Grandi said. “Today, more than ever, we must show states and host communities our support and solidarity with the multiple challenges they are facing on account of the devastating impact of the pandemic, among other factors.”

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Source: Devex