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Assisting refugees affected by Covid-19 in Colombia

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As part of its response to the Covid-19 crisis, Humanity & Inclusion is providing support to Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, where one million people have been infected by the virus. The impact of the epidemic has been dramatic.

Covid-19 has struck more than 980,000 people in Colombia. Many older people fear starvation or serious illness in a country where little or no provision is made for social assistance, pensions, and other welfare benefits. In recent months, the lockdown has seriously impacted the four million Venezuelans living in Colombia, who can no longer earn a living from the informal economy. In Colombia, the severe economic crisis caused by the epidemic has increased the precariousness of Venezuelan refugees who have lost their jobs and homes, and are unable to access food, drinking water, electricity, and the like.

The security situation is also extremely tense: "Armed groups have used the lockdown to tighten their grip over certain territories where the authorities have a weak hold," says Debir Valdelamar, Deputy Project Manager for Humanity & Inclusion in Colombia. "They have cast themselves as 'Covid crisis controllers', sowing terror, asserting their authority, imposing curfews, carrying out attacks against people who meet without authorization, and so on."

Humanity & Inclusion has assisted Venezuelan refugees since April 2019, and adapted its response to the pandemic. With support from ECHO, the organization is currently allocating financial support on a six-month basis to more than 200 Venezuelan refugee families identified as highly vulnerable. Most use the money to pay for rent, food or healthcare.

Humanity & Inclusion has also handed out food and hygiene kits containing soap, hand sanitizer, and other items to help keep the virus at bay. Teams have conducted awareness sessions on Covid-19, which included 12 videos translated into Venezuelan and Colombian sign language, and a prevention guide, to inform the most vulnerable individuals on prevention measures, and Covid symptoms.

"The first lockdown in Colombia was national. Regional authorities now decide on local prevention measures, which vary from one department to another," explains Valdelamar. "Many indigenous communities are still in full lockdown, or can no longer work or earn money, so our food distributions are extremely welcome. In November, we plan to distribute food and hygiene kits to 3,000 families."

Humanity & Inclusion also continues to provide psychological support and rehabilitation care to mine victims in the departments of Cauca, Meta, Antioquia, Caqueta, and Nariño.

Snapshot of Humanity & Inclusion's response in Colombia since March 2020

  • In April 2020, Humanity & Inclusion distributed 80 food kits, one per family, to people living in the departments of Cauca and Nariño, and more than 200 hygiene kits.
  • Humanity & Inclusion has trained members of national NGOs to include people with disabilities in their projects.
  • Teams have conducted awareness sessions on Covid-19, which included 12 videos translated into Venezuelan and Colombian sign language and a prevention guide to inform the most vulnerable on prevention measures, Covid symptoms, and so on. (Ongoing)
  • Humanity & Inclusion has also provided remote psychological support to more than 150 Venezuelan refugees in the Maicao refugee center in northern Colombia, and to people arriving in the cities of Bogota, Medellín, and Baranquilla. Humanity & Inclusion psychologists held WhatsApp sessions with those who needed them.
  • Lastly, Humanity & Inclusion has also enabled 112 Venezuelan refugee families identified by a "vulnerability" survey to benefit from a small, one-off cash transfer.
  • We also organized a series of virtual conferences on psychological first aid for carers and family members of people with disabilities.