UNHCR reinforces border response as Venezuelans rush to beat Peru deadline
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, reinforced its response at crucial border points in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia this week as thousands of refugees and migrants from Venezuela rushed into Peru ahead of a deadline for seeking Temporary Stay Permits.
On Wednesday, the number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants entering Peru from Ecuador at the main Tumbes border crossing peaked at more than 6,700 people in a single day, more than three times the level of just two weeks ago. Peru is now home to an estimated half a million Venezuelans.
Venezuelans crossing into Ecuador from Colombia via the Rumichaca and San Miguel border crossings also increased in October. Some 97,500 arrivals were registered over the course of the month.
The main reason for the surge in arrivals to Peru seems to have been a 31 October deadline for applying for a Temporary Stay Permit. This permit gives Venezuelans the right to work in Peru and access to health and education services. The Peruvian authorities announced that only those Venezuelans who entered the country before 31 October 2018 would be allowed to apply. Those eligible will be able to submit applications until December. Over 100,000 Venezuelans have already obtained the Temporary Stay Permit.
Earlier this week, Venezuelans waited in line for two to three days to complete the required border formalities, including immigration procedures and mandatory vaccinations. Thousands of people were sleeping in the open and many required medical assistance and food. The Peruvian authorities, UNHCR and its partners worked to quickly scale-up the response. In addition, strong coordination is in place between UNHCR offices in Peru and Ecuador to respond to the urgent needs of arriving Venezuelans.
In Peru, UNHCR has reinforced its presence in Tumbes with additional staff to help coordinate the response, increase protection coverage and identify and assist persons with specific needs, such as unaccompanied and separated children. Venezuelans who formally apply for asylum in Peru continue to be admitted at the border, although it appears the arrivals are falling. In Tumbes, the Peruvian authorities are processing some 1,000 asylum requests per day. Since 29 October, the Special Commission for Refugees (CEPR) has been working 24 hours a day in order to deal with the upsurge in applications. Over 150,000 Venezuelans have applied for asylum in Peru since 2014.
UNHCR has donated laptops and other equipment to Peru’s immigration authorities in order to speed up border formalities and cut waiting time. UNHCR has also provided financial resources for the deployment of additional government officials to bolster the capacity of the Special Commission for Refugees at the border.
Together with our partner Encuentros, UNHCR distributed hundreds of relief items and provided cash based assistance to vulnerable individuals and families. In addition, UNHCR installed 50 chemical toilets at the border. A new medical space was set-up to attend emergency cases. Currently, an average of 250 people are assisted daily by our partner IFRC but more are in need of care. IOM and UNHCR are sending volunteers to provide orientation and information to arriving Venezuelans.
UNHCR has also reinforced its response in Ecuador to provide protection and assistance to refugees and migrants from Venezuela. UNHCR teams are at the northern and southern borders providing orientation to arriving Venezuelan families, identifying cases with specific protection needs and referring them to services and programmes implemented by the state and UNHCR partners.
Over the weekend, food packages and essential relief items were distributed to some 1,500 vulnerable persons in the Rumichaca area. Also at the Colombia border, extremely vulnerable cases have been supported through cash assistance and hundreds of relief items have been distributed near San Miguel, and at Huaquillas on the border with Peru. Vulnerable families are identified and supported with temporary accommodation while they complete migratory entry procedures.
In Colombia, to respond to the increase of departures towards Ecuador, UNHCR and partners have deployed teams to the border to provide assistance, delivering hot meals, blankets and kits for children, as well as information and orientation to Venezuelans on their way to Ecuador.
Governments in the region and ordinary citizens have demonstrated generosity and solidarity with the refugees and migrants from Venezuela. However, essential services and infrastructure in the receiving communities are being impacted by the volume of arrivals and it is becoming increasingly difficult to respond to all the needs. More support from the international community is more needed than ever.
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