High Commissioner's remarks at the global launch ceremony of the Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants Regional Response Plan 2021

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is often said that the coronavirus does not discriminate. But the reality is that the pandemic does, indeed, discriminate. Low-income populations and ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected. And globally, Latin America and the Caribbean, which have less than 10 percent of the world's population, account for one-third of all COVID-19-related deaths.

For the 4.6 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela – who are among the region’s most vulnerable people – the pandemic poses an additional threat.

The Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants Regional Response Plan 2021, which we are presenting today, responds to the needs of refugees, migrants, and host communities, and obviously includes their physical and emotional health, as well as their psychological well-being – all of which have been directly impacted by the coronavirus – in addition to protection and humanitarian assistance and social and economic integration.

It is important to note that more than 3.4 million Venezuelans have been granted protection as refugees; are asylum seekers; or have benefited from some type of residence permit in the region. Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and other countries have strengthened and facilitated access to asylum; have made some requirements more flexible; have extended the validity of documents and have offered alternative protection.

Nevertheless, 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.

Restrictive measures have had a significant impact on the rise of gender-based violence. For example, our partners in Colombia who support Venezuelan women who are victims of gender-based violence in Cúcuta, are now treating nearly 100 cases per day, compared to about 15 cases per day prior to the pandemic.

Mayerlín Vergara Pérez, the winner of this year's Nansen Refugee Award for her work healing child and adolescent survivors of sexual violence and exploitation in Colombia's Guajira region, has told us that they are seeing a significant increase in this phenomenon, due to the pandemic. About half of those Maye serves are refugees and migrants from Venezuela.  

In this context, Support Spaces, Church networks and the civil society partners of the Inter-Agency Coordination Platform are key protection tools, accompanying and counselling people in critical situations and providing them with access to updated information, services and humanitarian assistance.

COVID-19 also represents a threat to education. We have seen that children, particularly girls, are not able to return to school because their schools are closed, because their families can no longer afford it, or because they need to work to help their families. For this reason, we need to continue supporting the inclusion of refugee and migrant children in schools, especially in rural areas.

In 2021, Latin America and the Caribbean will face immense challenges. 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. The Response Plan for the coming year is an important step towards the greater coordination of efforts to respond to the needs of refugees and migrants in Venezuela. UNHCR calls on all donors and international cooperation actors, and also on international financial institutions and development agencies, to join in providing a protection and solutions response.

Today, we are facing several pandemics: a health pandemic due to COVID-19; a poverty pandemic stemming from the effects of the restrictive measures; and another pandemic resulting from the humanitarian situation that continues to worsen in the region. All those pandemics show that we depend on each other and that we need the efforts of all in order to succeed.

Thank you very much.