Venezuelan micro-credit programme for refugees to be expanded
The Venezuelan government is planning to expand a programme of micro financial assistance to Colombian refugees and asylum seekers in Venezuelan border states.
A successful first stage of this programme granted US $250,000 in micro-credits to 65 projects involving production, trade and services. In this first stage, the Venezuelan Banco del Pueblo Soberano - one of the government's largest micro-finance institutions - supported projects that benefited 121 families, mostly headed by women, refugees and Venezuelans living in areas bordering Colombia.
After registering a high level of return and a bad debt rate lower than 3 percent, the Banco del Pueblo Soberano plans in 2009 to double the aid to other communities of Zulia, Táchira and Apure, and to extend the programme to more border states.
This plan promotes self-employment in host communities and is a big step in the effort to protect and integrate some 12,000 asylum seekers who are waiting for status recognition. In Venezuela it can take up to three years for asylum seekers to be recognized as refugees and to receive documentation giving them access to work.
The programme is part of a "borders of solidarity" strategy UNHCR implements in countries where integration is the most suitable solution. This is the case in Venezuela, where some 200,000 Colombians have arrived in the last decade fleeing conflict in their country. Most of those in need of protection do not have identity cards, which limits their access to the labour market, funding sources and ownership possibilities.