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Americas Regions: Population Movement - 30-months Operation Update (MDR42004)

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A. SITUATION ANALYSIS

In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated Venezuelan migrant's and refugees' migratory situation, especially considering the country of origin, lack of access to services, protection, livelihoods, and health.

The Regional Response Plan for Refugees and Migrants (R4V) warns that the number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants could reach 8.13 million by 2021.

Based on the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), form IOM in collaboration with R4V, the profile of the Venezuelan population in human mobility has been changing from being mainly single men, to families with several members, including children and adolescents, pregnant and lactating women, people with chronic conditions, people with physical and mental disabilities and other vulnerable groups.

Among these vulnerable groups, the mobilization of LGBTI+ people from Venezuela to Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, and other countries have Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, and other countries in the region have increased significantly. Significantly, this process is taking place in contexts with strong legal and normative gaps and prejudices that accentuate stigmas and representations that associate LGBTI+ people as a threat or as persons behind the window of services.

Prolonged confinement measures and restrictions on mobility have had a negative impact on the ability of refugees and migrants to maintain their livelihoods and access to essential goods and services, as many refugees and migrants from Venezuela have suffered the loss of income and, at the same time, have not been systematically included in the social safety nets established for the local population. Their plight has led some refugees and migrants to consider returning to Venezuela, often through irregular channels, posing additional protection and health challenges. However, the last quarter of 2020 has seen, at the same time, pre-existing dynamics such as pendular movements and an increasing number of re-entries to neighbouring countries.

These confinement measures also have had increased protection risks faced by migrants in the region. According to the guideline, ”Including migrants and displaced populations in preparedness and response activities to COVID-19 Guidance for Americas National Societies”, there is an increasing anti-migrant sentiment sweeping through the continent: episodes of discrimination, xenophobia, and harassment against migrants, are observed in several contexts.

There is also increasing situations of gender-based violence mostly against women and girls. This has been manifested through sexual abuse (reported and underreported cases) and the high risk of trafficking with sexual exploitation oriented to children (boys and girls) and women. Following these matters, the gender assigned roles can be a risk factor during COVID-19. For example, most at-risk persons (primarily women and girls) demanded to be the primary caregivers of people with chronic illnesses.

The infodemic has also shown a disproportional impact for some specific populations. For example, children might not have adapted access to information. They cannot express their fears abiding to seek help. People with disabilities and other populations (such as people living with HIV, ethnic groups, elderly, and LGBTQ+ groups) may face cultural and social barriers to access health services, even information adapted to their specific needs.

One of the leading social impacts, affecting primarily children and adolescents, is the closure of informal education settings (such as child-friendly spaces). However, children still face challenges to be included in the educational system, exposing them to different risks such as child labor, children living in the streets, child marriage or early unions, and specific forms of exploitation such as forced servitude and mendicity. All these risks remain increasing due to the direct affectation of their livelihoods.

In addition to this general situation, the Caribbean continues to experience an increasing number of arrivals despite introducing restrictions on access to the territories. Current trends suggest that new arrivals will be predominantly in Caribbean countries that share land or maritime border with Venezuela. It is also possible that some inland movements to the Caribbean islands will continue to occur, increasing the risks of human smuggling and trafficking. Incidents of Venezuelan vessels attempting to reach Caribbean countries will continue to happen. They will likely increase throughout the year by introducing visa requirements in four of the five Caribbean countries concerned.

The new scope of this migration dynamic in the Caribbean poses unprecedented challenges in the region, as maritime crossings via irregular vessels present significant risks for migrants, such as disappearing, being injured, or facing death in shipwrecks and tragic accidents that take place on these routes.

According to the last R4V situational report of the Caribbean subregion, countries are developing some protection related activities. For example, Curaꞔao approved the SOPs on Trafficking in Persons, including protection and assistance with a victim-centered approach. Similar actions have been made by Trinidad and Tobago, together with Venezuela, since a network of trafficking using sexual exploitation was affecting mainly migrant women. In 2020, two significant shipwrecks occurred between the coasts of Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago

Although the Caribbean has been the most affected by this phenomenon, this situation is not unique in the region. In Panama, African and Asian migrants, including refugees, arrive by boat (facing the same risks mentioned above) from neighbouring countries after gruelling journeys that have taken them through Brazil, the Amazon in Peru, and Ecuador, before attempting to cross Central America to northern countries.

According to the latest data reported by the R4V Coordination Platform, there are: in the world: 5.6 million and in Latin America and the Caribbean: 5 million. It is assumed that, if all irregular movements were considered, the total number of refugees and migrants in the region could be more than 5 million.

In addition to migrants from Venezuela settling throughout the region, some countries in the Americas receive significant numbers of extra-regional migrants from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. While some settle permanently in the region, many others choose to travel north, crossing from Colombia into Panama through the Darien Gap on their way to North America.

Overall, as the COVID-19 crisis impacts host countries, migrants experience increasing difficulties and vulnerabilities, especially in host countries where there are already feelings of xenophobia and discrimination towards people under human mobility situations. Different sources estimate that over 100,000 Venezuelans have returned to their home country since early April 20207. The recent report Venezuelans in return by IFRC, expands on the risks and needs that return migrants face.

Below is a brief description of the migration context in each of the countries included in the Emergency Appeal. For more information on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted migrant populations in the region and how National Societies are responding, please see the recent update published by the IFRC’s Migration Cell.