Upholding the protection of Venezuelan refugees and migrants

18 December 2018

Venezuelans crossing the border with Colombia (George Castellanos)

Venezuela is in the midst of a humanitarian emergency brought about by hyperinflation, the breakdown of democratic institutions and the rule of law, and serious human rights abuses. Hyperinflation has put even basic necessities out of reach for vulnerable citizens as Venezuelans find it harder to access food and medicine.

The deteriorating situation has driven many people to flee to neighboring countries. UNHCR estimates that 3 million people have already fled Venezuela and thousands more are on the move as conditions worsen. Latin American countries such as Colombia and Ecuador have played a critical role in welcoming these migrants and refugees, with over 1 million Venezuelans in Colombia and over 400,000 in Ecuador.

Bordering Venezuela, Colombia shoulders the majority of the burden while trying to maintain and create peace within its own borders. After decades of conflict, Colombia still struggles with the presence of armed groups and continued violence, resulting in persistent internal forced displacement. The influx of Venezuelans has placed a burden on these resource-constrained host countries and has caused some in host communities to be unwelcoming to Venezuelans.

As an average of 5,500 Venezuelans continue to leave their homes every day, particular attention must be paid to vulnerable migrants and refugees, who face increased risks and barriers to integration as they search for safety and protection.

Sexual exploitation targeting women and girls and human trafficking remains a critical concern at border crossings. Unaccompanied minors, the elderly, indigenous ethnic groups, and those with disabilities experience displacement in different ways, and humanitarian workers in host countries are striving to protect the individual and collective needs of those impacted by the largest population movement in the recent history of Latin America and the Caribbean.

JRS continues to uphold its mission to protect these refugees and migrants in Venezuela and throughout Latin America. A binational project between JRS Colombia and JRS Venezuela focuses on the accompaniment of those with the greatest assistance needs across border crossings in Apure, Venezuela and Arauca, Colombia.

Funding from the State Department’s Population, Refugees, and Migration Bureau allows JRS to assist Venezuelan refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations in Ecuador. JRS provides legal assistance and sponsorship for asylum seekers in Ecuador, psychosocial support, and “know your rights” training. This legal advice raises refugee awareness of the immigration process in Ecuador. JRS also operates three shelter networks throughout Ecuador for refugees and asylum seekers that focus on providing access to basic needs.

JRS also provides livelihoods training for Venezuelan refugees and other forcibly displaced persons and has been a seed funder of refugee enterprises. Critically, JRS is working to improve social cohesion and reduce tensions between host and refugee communities with a focus on local integration and sustainable solutions.

As the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela continues to grow, the need for a coordinated international response only increases. We must uphold the protection of Venezuelan refugees and migrants by following through on several crucial measures, including maintaining a robust humanitarian response and ensuring that host communities make available procedures for regularization and integration of those who are displaced.

Through the continued collaboration of state governments, civil society, and the migrants and refugees themselves, it will be possible to improve the living conditions for thousands of these displaced persons towards a more peaceful and stable future.

Want to take action to protect Venezuelan refugees and migrants? Click here to write your policymakers about this issue.