(CMC) — United Nations humanitarians say there is need for greater international support for vulnerable Venezuelan migrants and refugees to the Caribbean and other countries particularly impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and socio-economic crisis.
According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, since 2015, an estimated 5.6 million Venezuelans have left the South American country to escape violence, insecurity and threats, as well as a longstanding economic crisis which has led to a lack of food, medicines and essential services.
UNHCR said at least 2.5 million Venezuelans have settled in the Americas, including the Caribbean, particularly Trinidad and Tobago, “where most were self-sufficient until the pandemic hit, resulting in lost jobs, evictions and a rise in gender-based violence”.
“The facts for Venezuelan refugees and migrants are stark: over half don’t have enough to eat, 80 to 90 per cent have lost their source of income, one in four children are separated from their families during the journey, and many women and girls face particular challenges, such as gender-based violence and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services,” said Michael Grant, assistant deputy minister for the Americas at Global Affairs Canada, ahead of a donor conference to be hosted by Canada on Thursday.
The UN said the conference — to be co-hosted by UNHCR and the UN migration agency IOM — comes as humanitarians warned that the onset of winter in Latin America has made matters worse for desperate Venezuelans. The UN said that the conference is seeking to raise US$1.44 billion.
It said an estimated one in four Venezuelan children has become separated from one or both parents, while one in three goes to bed hungry.
Close to two-thirds have not been able to continue their studies during the pandemic, UNHCR said.
It said datasets compiled in the last year also indicate that Venezuelan women have become the target of an alarming increase in domestic violence, sexual harassment and abuse, negative coping mechanisms, including survival sex, as well as human trafficking.
Citing the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, UNHCR said there has also been a near 70 per cent increase in murders of Venezuelan women during the pandemic — from 31 cases in 2019 to 52 between March and November 2020.
“What’s been incredible since the start of COVID in a region where we had a vast majority of refugees and migrants — let’s say 80, 85 per cent were self-reliant — not necessarily living very well, but at least self-reliant — COVID has had absolutely the reverse effect, that now we’re looking at a population that’s really dependent on humanitarian assistance,” Marie-Helene Verney, UNHCR Head of Operations for the Venezuela Situation.
According to UNHCR, older persons — often the major breadwinner — face additional hardship since almost half have lost their jobs.
Prior to the pandemic, UNHCR said one in four skipped meals. But, since COVID-19, more than four in 10 have had to cut back on the amount they eat, UNHCR said.
The UHCR said, “Concerns for the region are growing amid predictions by institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, of an economic contraction of eight per cent in South America over the next two years, the worst economic recession in 120 years.”
“Venezuelans have mostly been included in national health responses, but with hospitals operating at full capacity, access to treatment for other illnesses, including those associated with the winter season, has become ever more challenging,” the UN agency said in a statement.