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Colombia: Population Movement (MDRCO014) 24-month Update

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Situation Report
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A. SITUATION ANALYSIS

Description of the disaster

As of March 2020, the Coordination Platform for Migrants and Refugees from Venezuela estimates that 5.1 million Venezuelans, around 15 per cent of the country’s population, have emigrated. Comparatively, this is the second largest population movement in the world, just below the Syrian crisis that began in 2011.

Map 1 shows the migration patterns of Venezuelan migrants in Latin America, signalling the magnitude of the challenge for Colombia in comparison with neighbouring countries.

Out of the 5.1 million Venezuelan migrants, 4.3 million (83%) are estimated to be in Latin America, and Colombia continues to be the number one receptor with 1.8 million (35%), which represents 3,7% of the country’s total population and is slightly more than its indigenous population. Since October 2019, the estimated number of irregular Venezuelans in Colombia has surpassed the number of registered Venezuelans. The graph below shows the exponential trajectory of this migratory phenomena.

As described in the 18-month update, this Emergency Appeal has targeted six key population groups: migrants on foot (caminantes), host communities, migrants who have settled, pendular migrants, Colombian returnees from Venezuela and seasonal migrants. All groups face similar deprivations, especially in health services and livelihood opportunities, but they also face different risks according to their profile and condition. Overall, migrants on foot are among the most vulnerable, especially affected by food insecurity and respiratory infections. Host communities experience a decrease in their already scarce access to public services (i.e. access to safe water). Settled migrants and Colombian returnees often cannot find regular employment, whilst seasonal migrants depend on livelihoods opportunities. Pendular migrants have other needs; in the case of women, pre and postnatal care are the predominant services sought by this group, and the follow up and treatments for some chronic conditions.

The Colombian Red Cross Society (CRCS), with the support of its partners, has been engaged for over three years in its humanitarian response to the migration situation. Recent diplomatic developments between the Venezuelan and US governments, the global spread of COVID-19, as well as border closures due to the sanitary emergency, may increase tensions in the subregion and lead to new humanitarian needs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has restructured the humanitarian landscape in Colombia, as in the rest of the world. A virus that was initially deemed as indiscriminative of social and economic status, now demonstrates greater potential affectation amongst people in the lower deciles of society who are more dependent on daily income-generation activities, increasing the risks for food insecurity, health conditions and protection situations. Since they cannot afford to retreat into their homes for long periods of time, their exposure to contagion sources also augments. In practice this means that humanitarian organizations are in the process to recalculate their needs analysis, estimate the impact of the virus on their original problematic situation, and redistribute resources accordingly.

The first case of COVID-19 in Colombia was reported on 6 March 2020. In the framework of its global response to the pandemic, the IFRC has designed a Country Impact Index for COVID-19 affectation. According to this comparative measure, Colombia scores 4 on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the highest level of affectation. This comparative index indicates that Colombia is a country of especially high affectation in the Americas region.

COVID-19 has an enormous impact on migrants in Colombia is . Since January 2020, the number of people reached by the Emergency Appeal has plummeted. Initially, the December 2019 decrease in number of people reached and services provided was explained by the return of migrants to Venezuela, mostly to spend the end of the year with their families after having been apart for lengthy periods of time. By end of February, the numbers were expected to normalize as migrants returned to or through Colombia (as determined through rapid surveys carried out in December 2019), however they never did. By 25 March 2020, when social isolation measures were enforced nationwide, it was clear that the number of migrants reached in 2020 had reduced between 60 to 80% in every Health Care Unit (HCU).

This first consequence of the COVID-19 virus on this operation is expected to last well into the second semester of the current year. In addition, the complete halt of economic activity in the informal sector in Colombia, one sector that was increasingly occupied by Venezuelan migrants, has resulted in the return of increasing numbers of migrants to Venezuela, unable to attend to their basic needs, or pay rent. In Cucuta, the largest border city, 71% of the working population is informal. In addition, the closure of all national borders on 17 March 2020 has meant that increasing numbers of migrants use informal passing corridors, augmenting the risks of being exposed to illegal tolls and abuse or violence by armed groups.

The effects and challenges from COVID-19 also will have an impact in the different sectors in the medium and long term. The more concerning effect of the pandemic will manifest over a longer period of time (6 to 12 months), when the contagion spreads into peripheral areas. The humanitarian response to COVID-19 by the Colombian Red Cross Society, also supported through an IFRC global Emergency Appeal for the response to COVID-19, is focused on providing technical assistance, personal protection equipment and additional medical equipment to the field teams, as well as increasing distribution of hygiene elements and dissemination to communities.

As a result, the migration response has needed to adapt to changing circumstances given the shift in immediate humanitarian needs, and continuous innovation may be required as the operation continues.