• Gustavo Driau

The pandemic exposes the vulnerability of Venezuelan migrants and refugees

More than five million Venezuelans have fled their country in recent years, driven by a deep political, social, and economic crisis. Of these, 1.8 million have settled in Colombia, the country with which it shares a porous border of more than 2,200 kilometers.

Throughout this period, the entry of Venezuelan migrants to Colombia was incessant; each month, there have been more migrants than the previous month.

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has changed this trend. In March 2020, for the first time, the number of Venezuelan migrants who have formally settled in Colombia dropped almost 1%, from 1,825,000 people in February to 1,809,000.

20% of Venezuelan migrants reside in Bogotá, which concentrates the largest amount in the entire country.

The second concentration is in Norte Santander, which has the main border crossing between both countries and is home to 12% (210,000 people)

The closure of the borders, and the difficulties for working decrease the number of migrants. The mandatory isolation measures established by the governments of the region inhibit working; without income, hunger is more than a threat. Many Venezuelans are among the most vulnerable segments of society, and 90% have occupations in the informal economy.

The pandemic exposes the vulnerability of Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Colombia and South America.

The COVID-19 aggravates the situation of the poor and excluded local people in the countries and leaves aside the unprecedented exodus of desperate migrants with urgent humanitarian needs.

The situation is critical because despite the efforts to receive migrants, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile have their budgets and institutional capacities exceeded. They have responsibilities towards their population due to the impact of the pandemic.

At the same time, the coronavirus has caused a devastating impact on migrants. Many refugees have lost their livelihoods, have even been evicted from their homes even during quarantines.

Although some are returning, it is a lower percentage; the majority will remain in host countries. Colombia has maintained with great effort an internationally recognized policy of reception and migratory flexibility. Still, the pandemic will hit the economy, increase unemployment and poverty, which will increase xenophobia and rejection of migrants.

Colombia and Peru urgently need more international resources to continue serving this population at grave humanitarian risk.

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