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Southern Cone Sub-Regional Platform: RMRP 2021 End-Year Report

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SITUATION

Due to prolonged border closures, mobility restrictions and sanitary requirements throughout the region, Venezuelans increasingly used alternative routes or irregular pathways to enter countries, leading to an increase of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in an irregular situation in the Southern Cone. The last months of 2021 in particular saw a considerable increase in arrivals, resulting in challenges ensuring access to basic needs such as water, food, temporary shelter and basic health care. Limited presence and response capacities of government institutions and partners in border areas, as well as inadequate basic infrastructure, affected access to basic needs and services, especially for refugees and migrants in transit through Bolivia (en route to Chile) and those in border areas trying to enter Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay by land.

The irregular routes undertaken by many Venezuelans are increasingly associated with severe protection risks, including the border crossings between Peru and Bolivia, but in particular between Bolivia and the north of Chile, where at least 20 refugees and migrants died in 2021.

The protection space in the Southern Cone continued shrinking in 2021. This was mainly due to border closures, restrictive policies and practices regarding access to asylum and access to territory, and to considerable delays in the procedures to obtain residence permits and national identification documents. Refugees and migrants also reported difficulties with achieving family reunification services, and unaccompanied and separated children and adolescents lacked the conditions for safe entry into multiple countries of the Southern Cone. Nevertheless, there were also positive developments: at the end of 2021, Bolivia implemented a regularization programme, through which eligible Venezuelans currently in an irregular situation may receive two-year stay permits; and Paraguay recognized most Venezuelans who had applied for asylum in the country as refugees, which provides them a path to permanent residency and citizenship. Despite the partial recovery of the economies of the four countries, the pandemic and its related containment measures continued to impact the living conditions of Venezuelans in the Southern Cone. For example, refugees and migrants registered higher unemployment and informal labour rates in comparison with nationals. A large majority of Venezuelans suffered the partial or total interruption of their incomes due to the pandemic, and even in the second half of 2021, a significant proportion of refugees and migrants were not able to regain their pre-pandemic income levels. In terms of health, refugees and migrants reported little access to health services available in Bolivia and Paraguay, frequently due to lack of information on national health systems, to administrative-bureaucratic documentation requirements, high costs and discrimination.