UNHCR opens reception centre near Colombian border to assist vulnerable Venezuelans

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Colombia. Desperate Venezuelans cross border in search of a better life

A Venezuelan family walks along a highway near the border city of Cúcuta, Colombia, October 2018.  © UNHCR/Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, together with the Colombian authorities, is opening today a reception centre to offer support to vulnerable refugees and migrants from Venezuela in the border city of Maicao, in La Guajira region. The Integrated Assistance Centre, set up at the request of national and local authorities, has an initial capacity of 350, but has the possibility to grow to accommodate more people in the future. Vulnerable persons from Venezuela will have temporary access to shelter, food, water, basic medical care, and other services in the centre.

The reception centre, the first of its kind in Colombia, aims at temporarily addressing the urgent humanitarian and protection needs of the most vulnerable people fleeing from Venezuela, as well as supporting the response of the local authorities.

Maicao is one of the cities in La Guajira with the highest concentration per capita of refugees and migrants from Venezuela. Hundreds of people, including children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and critical medical conditions, are forced to live on the streets, due to a lack of alternative shelter options. According to a recent UNHCR assessment, a significant number of Venezuelans in Maicao are living on the streets or in informal settlements and 81 per cent of those interviewed said that they required shelter.

The planning and building of the reception centre followed extensive consultations at national and local level, including with host communities, in order to ensure that the centre provides the most effective response to their specific needs and concerns.

Over 3.4 million Venezuelans are living abroad of whom 2.7 million have left the country since 2015. Colombia is the country most affected by this outflow, with over 1.1 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants. The government has made commendable efforts to respond to these arrivals, through a generous open border policy, a series of status regularization measures and facilitating access to basic services. However, the humanitarian needs have overwhelmed the country’s reception capacity and many Venezuelans face protection risks due to a lack of documents, access to health care, food, water and education, resulting in many vulnerable individuals being forced to live on the streets and the risk of abuse and exploitation.

In order to complement the government’s efforts to provide international protection and respond to the increasing humanitarian needs of the arrivals from Venezuela, UNHCR is working to strengthen shelter networks, provide legal counselling and facilitate access to food, water, education and health services to people in dire need.

Across the region, UNHCR is working for refugees and migrants from Venezuela, whose legal, protection and humanitarian needs continue to require urgent international support. The Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for 2019, requires US$738 million to provide a response for the needs of 2.2 million Venezuelans and 500,000 people in host communities in 16 countries.

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