By Eduardo Stein
The Venezuelan refugee and migrant crisis is one of the biggest external displacement crises in the world today. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded an already desperate situation for many refugees and migrants, as well as their hosts, sorely testing health and social welfare systems and the ability of countries to assist the vulnerable population.
Refugees and migrants, especially those in an irregular situation, are particularly vulnerable. Some governments have been making commendable efforts to include them in health and social protection programmes, and many others should be encouraged to do so.
The economic impact of the pandemic has been no less devastating. Many refugees and migrants have lost their livelihoods and have been evicted from their homes. Unable to cover regular basic needs such as shelter, food, sanitary and healthcare needs, and equally unable to comply with the quarantine measures and social distancing, an increasing number of Venezuelans have had no choice but to return to Venezuela in an unregulated and potentially dangerous manner that poses significant protection and health risks for the region at large.
Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have shown admirable solidarity towards the refugees and migrants from Venezuela and have developed regional coordination mechanisms such as the Quito Process.
However, national capacities and host communities are being stretched to a breaking point, and regional solidarity and political will are being challenged in the face of limited international support, particularly as the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic begins to be felt across the region.
With State capacities under extreme pressure, social service provision at its limits and xenophobic trends on the rise, there is an urgent need to complement states’ efforts to support host communities. Additional support is essential to meet both immediate, humanitarian needs and to address longer-term development gaps to facilitate the socio-economic inclusion of refugees and migrants as an opportunity for all.
The Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform (R4V), in close coordination with national and local authorities, and with WHO-PAHO leading the health sector response, has activated a critical revision of all operations in the region to prioritize essential protection and life-saving actions in the context of COVID-19.
The result of these efforts is this document, which updates the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP) launched in November 2019, addressing new challenges to deliver basic support and protection to refugees and migrants from Venezuela, as well as to host communities.