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Venezuela crisis, people fleeing to Colombia increase

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More than 5,000 migrants fled Venezuela after the clashes on the border with Colombia, and now are in overcrowded informal settlements. INTERSOS distributed the first 80 kits with tents and blankets

For weeks, thousands of people have been crammed on the border between Venezuela and Colombia: women, men and children who fled the armed clashes that took place in the city of La Victoria, located in Venezuelan territory, between the military forces of the FANB (Bolivarian National Air Force) and the Colombian dissident armed groups of the FARC. To date, there are about 5,834 people in search of shelter, who fled the state of Apure (Venezuela), which borders the municipality of Arauquita, Colombian department of Arauca. A number on the rise since the start of the clashes, on March 21st. Although there has been an apparent calm between the two fronts for several days, the alert level continues to be high. The living conditions of people, both families and individuals, who have fled their homes, without taking anything with them, for fear of being involved in firefights are worrying.

Our intervention in the two Countries

INTERSOS has already been on the border between Colombia and Venezuela for two years to bring help and assistance to the most vulnerable people, through psychosocial and legal support activities. In these days of emergency we are distributing hygiene kits and shelters. During the week from April 12nd to 16th, our staff delivered essential goods among migrants who are in the areas of Barrios las Flores, Vereda San Lorenzo and El Troncal, municipality of Arauquita. In just one day, 80 kits containing tents and blankets were delivered. Thanks to these distributions, many families have found shelter for the night, thus reducing the risk of running into dangerous situations.

These people do not have food, drinking water, shelter, clothes and any other good for survival in a complex context such as the one that characterises the Venezuelan-Colombian border. Many live in camps close to the Arauca River, often crossed by the migrants themselves with canoes or makeshift boats. Humanitarian intervention is becoming a priority as more and more people flee: what is taking place in Colombian territory is an emergency about which the international community is silent and often indifferent. Yet, the complex political and socio-economic situation of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has generated one of the largest migratory movements in recent years; an estimated 5.4 million people have left the country.

The fear of COVID-19 among the migrant population

In times of pandemic, humanitarian coordination becomes even more urgent in the face of the impact that COVID-19 has on the population. To date, about 22 people have tested positive for the virus: the estimated number of people positive for COVID-19 is however much higher but cannot be specified due to the lack of resources to carry out rapid or molecular tests. Furthermore, the precariousness of informal settlements, often formed by groups of tents, the absence of distancing and hygiene measures, make it almost impossible to avoid the spread of the virus among people. For the next few weeks, with the increase in rains, it is feared that the waters of the Arauca River will rise to such an extent that it could prevent humanitarian workers from accessing various shelter areas for migrants.

It is necessary to be able to guarantee access to primary goods and basic services such as psychosocial assistance and legal advice to the population crammed into urban and rural areas, also due to the risk that tensions, aggressions or acts of gender-based violence may explode, which often take place in contexts of decay and abandonment. In the Ceballos camp, INTERSOS is organising a series of interviews and counselling with women and girls to start with them a path of psychosocial support and awareness on the issue of gender-based violence.