SITUATION AT A GLANCE
On September 18, the U.S. Government (USG) announced more than $348 million in humanitarian funding for response to the Venezuela regional crisis.
As coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases increase in Venezuela, particularly among health care personnel, shortages of critical health supplies persist. In addition, humanitarian access in Venezuela remains constrained and relief actors face difficulties reaching vulnerable populations, including returnees.
On July 15, the UN published the 2020 Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan, requesting $762.5 million to reach 4.5 million of the 7 million people in need with emergency assistance in 2020.
USG Announces $348 Million in Additional Humanitarian Assistance for the Venezuela Regional Crisis Response
On September 18, during a trip to Boa Vista city in Brazil’s Roraima State, U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo announced approximately $348 million in additional USG humanitarian assistance in response to the Venezuela regional crisis, including nearly $205 million from USAID/BHA and $143 million from State/PRM. The funding will enable partners to provide urgently needed emergency food assistance; health care; multipurpose cash assistance; protection services; and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) support, both inside Venezuela and in countries across Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) hosting vulnerable Venezuelan migrants and refugees. Additionally, USG humanitarian partners continue to bolster COVID-19 response efforts, with nearly $43 million in previously announced funding for the Venezuela regional crisis. Since FY 2017, the USG has provided more than $1.2 billion in development and humanitarian assistance to the Venezuela regional crisis response.
Relief Actors Face Challenges in Venezuela’s COVID-19 Response
Relief actors continue to face challenges in responding to COVID-19-related health care needs in Venezuela, including a lack of critical medical supplies and concerns with underreporting of COVID-19 cases due to limited testing and surveillance as well as suppression of information regarding the outbreak’s severity by the regime of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro. Additionally, the number of COVID-19-related deaths among health care workers in Venezuela remains the highest in the LAC region, according to the interim Government of Venezuela (GoV) and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and interim GoV health officials attribute the high COVID-19 incidence among health care workers largely to a persistent nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other health supplies. Meanwhile, the interim GoV continues to publish COVID-19 case fatality numbers that are significantly higher than figures published by the Maduro regime, underscoring ongoing challenges related to coordination and COVID-19 data reliability within Venezuela.
In response to medical supply shortages, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) delivered nearly 12 metric tons (MT) of emergency medical supplies—including PPE for health care workers—for Venezuela’s COVID-19 response on August 11. In addition, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) delivered more than 18 MT of PPE to more than 30 health facilities in July. Both contributions were provided under the auspices of a June 1 agreement between interim GoV and Maduro regime Ministry of Health representatives committing each party to coordinating on the COVID-19 response.
Venezuelan Returnees Require Health, Protection Assistance
Economic hardship and lack of access to social protection programs during the COVID-19 pandemic continue to prompt Venezuelans to return to Venezuela from Colombia and neighboring countries—through formal and informal routes—largely to Venezuela’s Táchira State, OCHA reports. As of September 10, approximately 110,000 Venezuelans had returned to Venezuela from Brazil and Colombia alone, according to an Organization of American States report. Upon arrival, returnees must quarantine in Maduro regime-managed shelters, known as Puntos de Atención Social Integral (PASIs), which are largely characterized by overcrowding, poor WASH conditions, and limited humanitarian access. Health actors report that authorities rely largely on inadequate COVID-19 testing protocols in PASIs, utilizing rapid tests that often generate false negatives, contributing to increased virus transmission among individuals under quarantine. Further, OCHA reports the need for improved epidemiological tracing of returnees once they depart the PASIs and return to their states of origin. OCHA reports that cases of gender-based violence (GBV) and violence against children have increased countrywide in Venezuela during the pandemic, underscoring the vulnerability of the returnee population to protection risks. The UN agency has called for authorities to improve protection actors’ access to the PASIs, provide training to shelter managers, and expand GBV response services. Humanitarian organizations, including USG partners, continue to work in coordination with the Regional Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V) to prioritize assistance to Venezuelan migrants and refugees in their host countries, since humanitarian organizations do not assess that conditions in Venezuela are safe and conducive to large-scale assisted returns at this time. The USG is concerned about Venezuelans returning to a massive humanitarian crisis in a country marked by the collapse of social services, potentially exacerbating public health and protection risks, and overwhelming the already poor reception conditions in Venezuela.
UN Releases 2020 Venezuela HNO/HRP, Highlights 7 Million People in Need
On July 15, the UN published the 2020 Venezuela Humanitarian Needs Overview and Humanitarian Response Plan (HNO/HRP), identifying key food security, health, nutrition, and protection needs among vulnerable populations; the document also underscored the need to increase access to essential goods and services such as education, electricity and household gas, and safe drinking water. The 2020 HRP prioritizes reaching 4.5 million, of the 7 million people in need of humanitarian support, for assistance and requests approximately $762.5 million—including $87.9 million for the country’s COVID-19 response—to support humanitarian assistance programs through December 2020. As of September 4, the 2020 HRP had received $61.9 million, or 8.1 percent of the appeal. Overall, donors contributed $139.9 million towards humanitarian response activities in Venezuela in 2020, according to the UN. Following the release of the HNO/HRP, the interim GoV expressed support for the UN’s outlined response activities, while also calling for expanded operations to address food security and nutrition needs, as well as greater access inside the country for international humanitarian organizations.
GoC Extends Legal Residency and Work Permits for Venezuelans
The Government of Colombia (GoC) recently announced plans to extend the deadline for Venezuelan migrants to apply for a special stay permit (PEP)—which enables access to employment, education, and health care services—until October 3 due to the economic impact of COVID-19. The application was originally set to expire in late August. From July 4 to August 6, more than 63,000 migrants and refugees renewed PEPs, GoC migration authorities report. Despite recent reverse migration to Venezuela, Colombia continues to host the largest population of Venezuelan migrants and refugees in the LAC region; nearly 1.8 million Venezuelans remained in Colombia as of early September, according to R4V.
GoB Grants Refugee Status to Nearly 7,800 Venezuelans
On August 28, the Government of Brazil (GoB) announced that the National Committee for Refugees (CONARE) had granted formal refugee status to nearly 7,800 Venezuelan asylum seekers, bringing the total number of officially recognized Venezuelan refugees in Brazil to more than 46,000 individuals, the highest such population in the region. In early 2020, CONARE adopted expedited procedures to evaluate requests for refugee status from Venezuelans who meet specific criteria, including residence in Brazil, possession of a Venezuelan identity document, and lack of criminal record in Brazil. As of July, the GoB had registered more than 130,000 requests for refugee status from Venezuela, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports.
GoP Permits Venezuelan Medical Staff Hires to Bolster COVID-19 Response
Due to a shortage of health care workers amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Peru (GoP) issued a decree in early August exempting qualified foreign doctors and nurses residing in Peru from requirements to validate medical degrees received outside of the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. The exemption will streamline and expedite the hiring of foreign doctors and nurses, including eligible Venezuelans, according to the GoP. Prior to the exemption, foreign doctors and nurses were required to retake qualifying exams and pay several fees to register their medical licenses with the Peruvian health care system, a process that has been prohibitively expensive for many Venezuelans. The measures will enable qualified Venezuelan medical staff to earn a formal income, the GoP reports.
WFP Reports Worsening Food Insecurity for Venezuelans in South America
In July, the UN World Food Program (WFP) reported that food security conditions among vulnerable households in South America—particularly Venezuelans residing in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru—are projected to worsen in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as households’ inability to afford food continues to drive acute food insecurity conditions among Venezuelan migrants and refugees across the region. The proportion of migrants who only had one meal or did not eat the day before increased by 2.5 times compared to the pre-coronavirus pandemic period, according to WFP. Reduced economic activity due to COVID-19 mitigation measures has prompted a significant decline in household income, especially among poor and migrant households who rely on work in the informal sector as their primary source of income. In addition, reduced economic activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic and increased food prices in many regions of South America have diminished household purchasing power, further driving humanitarian needs among Venezuelan migrant households.