Statement at the High-Level Humanitarian Donor Roundtable on the Humanitarian Situation in Venezuela
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for convening this meeting, so timely to renew our commitment to the people of Venezuela, also affected by the COVID crisis.
We are convened today, under the auspices of the Kingdom of Sweden and the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, to renew and strengthen our commitment to find solutions for the people of Venezuela, who have been tragically affected by their country’s deepening political, socio-economic, human rights and humanitarian crisis, now compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As you are aware, this dramatic situation has brought hardship and suffering to many Venezuelans; forcing more than 5 million women, children and men to flee, mainly to other countries in the region – most of them in situations of extreme vulnerability and in need of international protection. As you know, together with IOM, UNHCR is leading the humanitarian response in the region, together with governments, other UN agencies and partners.
I will limit my remarks today to the situation inside Venezuela – but let me still acknowledge the substantial pledges made by donors at the International Donors Conference for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants which we held last May. Thank you for those. These funds have enabled us to scale up the humanitarian response inside the country, in addition to the region. I hope that today’s meeting will hopefully allow us to increase resource mobilisation.
We must also acknowledge the impact of COVID-19 pandemic which struck the Americas disproportionately, affecting many Venezuelan refugees and migrants. Many have lost their jobs, housing, food security and access to health. It is within this difficult context that over 100,000 Venezuelans have returned to their country since mid-March, as many are no longer able to support themselves abroad.
All too often, returns to Venezuela are taking place under dangerous circumstances. With closed borders and travel restrictions in place, many are using irregular routes, which makes them vulnerable, especially women and children, to exploitation and abuse.
We have been working in Venezuela for years. We should not forget that Venezuela has been for years hosting Colombian refugees and we have about a hundred staff there. We are working mostly along the country’s borders and in vulnerable host communities. This year UNHCR has reached over 452,000 people through protection, education, shelter and WASH interventions.
As lead of the Protection Cluster and the Shelter/Non-Food Items/Energy Cluster, UNHCR is an integral part of the interagency efforts under the Humanitarian Response Plan. We have donated Refugee Housing Units and rehabilitated health and reception centers for triage, quarantine facilities and emergency shelters. In 68 communities, our teams support women and youth networks, as well as other grassroots initiatives. We conduct protection monitoring along the border and in communities to provide information and orientation along with legal assistance and psychosocial support.
We have access to some of the quarantine centers and we have observed that there are areas where improvements are much needed. Challenges continue, including the safety of our staff and partners as well as humanitarian access in parts of the country. And before closing, there is something I want to stress. Returning Venezuelans have been accused of bringing the virus with them. This has led to some cases of stigmatization, which have the potential to negatively impact their prospects for reintegration. And in fact, we have observed some reverse movements to Colombia and further afield.
UNHCR is working with civil society to respond to the growing needs inside Venezuela. We are also calling on our friends and stakeholders to renew their much-needed support to the Venezuelan population, and to help us fulfill our mandate to stay and deliver. Because, while the impact of this crisis reaches across Latin America and the Caribbean, the most crucial work remains inside the country. It is only by enhancing our support and scaling up our response in Venezuela that we will we be able to work meaningfully towards solutions throughout the region.