Coronavirus, a New Threat for Venezuelan Immigrants


A family of Venezuelan migrants walking on a road in Colombia. UN agencies warn that both in refugee centers and when trying to pass borders, thousands can fall victims to different types of abuses and their health is highly vulnerable with the arrival of the pandemic.  Photo: Santiago Escobar Jaramillo/Acnur

HAVANA TIMES – Millions of Venezuelans who have emigrated to other Latin American countries are in an extremely vulnerable situation right now with the new COVID-19 pandemic, and they need help so as not to get sick and survive this state of emergency, UN refugee and immigration agencies announced on Thursday 9th.

“The wellbeing and safety of Venezuelans and their host communities is at greater and greater risk”, because regional response efforts are saturated, according to a statement issued by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (ACNUR).

The latest report written by ACNUR and IOM states that some 4,933,999 people have emigrated from Venezuela (with a total population of 32.2 million inhabitants), between 2015 and March 5th 2020.

Most of them have settled in neighboring countries: 1,771,000 to Colombia, 861,000 to Peru, 371,000 to Chile, 366,000 to Ecuador, 253,000 to Brazil and 145,000 to Argentina.

The vast majority of Venezuelans in this situation “can’t cover basic needs such as shelter, food and medical assistance,” according to the regional coordination platform between UN agencies that are dealing with the pandemic.

Social distancing or respecting limited trips outside to search for the essentials are “practically impossible measures to implement” with those who are in transit or in densely-populated areas, such as shelters, the report stated.

With national borders closed in South America and the Caribbean, it warns of “an increase of illegal movement” of people via illegal and informal border crossings, where Venezuelans are vulnerable “to all kinds of abuse and because they have serious health conditions.”

In order to provide a response to the regional migration movement, the UN’s inter-agency platform launched a 1.3 billion USD plan in November 2019, which is being reviewed to tackle the pandemic. In any case, it has only received 3% of the funds that it had hoped to receive.

In recent weeks, many thousands of Venezuelans looking to return to their own country, have arrived in the Northern Santander Department, in Colombia’s north-east, so they can cross this border via a humanitarian corridor, as the border has been formally closed.

In this region, UN agencies are providing aid and distributing food and hygiene packages to some 7000 people. “Quarantine” areas have been improvised on the Venezuelan side and a night curfew has been issued in order to keep those returning in isolation for 14 days, before carrying on their way.

On the other hand, social distancing measures ordered by Latin American countries mean that many immigrants are unable to work, who make up the informal economy.

“They depend on their income which is very low, working in the informal economy, or they have precarious and temporary jobs and don’t have any social protection, paid sick leave, or social security,” Daniela Rovina, from the IPM, explained.

Furthermore, “the number of Venezuelans who have been left homeless because of evictions or shelters closing down has increased,” which “negatively affects the public view of immigrants and refugees,” Rovina said.

This context “might encourage expressions of rejection and discrimination”, so the UN platform is trying “to develop messages of integration, empathy and tolerance. Coronavirus has no regard for nationality or home country, it doesn’t discriminate, it can infect all of us,” she added.

There are approximately 160 million immigrant workers in the world and the IOM has asked that they all be treated “on the basis of equality, dignity and respect, regardless of their gender and immigrant status.”

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