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Venezuelan Humanitarian and Refugee Crisis

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Venezuela has been in a severe socio-political and economic crisis for several years.

With an exodus of more than 7.72 million people (as of August 2023), the refugee crisis in Venezuela is the largest-ever refugee crisis in Latin America and one of the largest in the world.

Approximately 6.54 million of the refugees are located in Latin America and the Caribbean. Those who fled the country continue to “face challenges accessing food, housing, and stable jobs” in their new countries of residence. As a result of these challenges, some refugees choose to continue their migration to other countries, and some have chosen to return to Venezuela.

According to UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency), this has been “motivated mainly by the lack of integration opportunities and cases of intolerance and xenophobia, as well as the desire for family reunification and the perception of an improving economic outlook in Venezuela. According to Venezuela’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, more than 300,000 nationals have returned to the country since September 2020. Nevertheless, those returning face difficulties in accessing jobs, social services, and housing.”

There is little updated research about returns, but the 2023 Refugee and Migrant Needs Analysis (RMNA 2023) indicates that most entry into Venezuela seems to be pendular, with most people also planning to exit again.

Decades of government mismanagement have created an economic, political and humanitarian crisis with a reduced quality of life similar to those experienced in countries affected by wars or conflicts. There are many significant and urgent needs within Venezuela and host countries: all underfunded.

Within Venezuela as of Oct. 31, 2023, approximately 19 million people (66% of the population) require humanitarian assistance. The Humanitarian Response Plan aimed to raise $720 million to help 5.2 million people. It only received $362.8 million in 2023, so numbers served did not match goals. As of Jan. 7, 2024, $1.5 million had been received toward the response plan goal, as well as $22.5 million in other funding.

In October 2023, Samir Elhawary, head of OCHA’s office in Venezuela, told The New Humanitarian that funding is continuing to fall short of meeting the needs in Venezuela.

According to Elhawary, “We saw a 7% fall last year, and this year we’re expecting a 15-20% fall compared to last year. So we are worried … The response outside is finding it increasingly difficult to raise money … But if we don’t put more resources and efforts to respond to needs inside Venezuela, we won’t address the underlying causes of migration.”

Of the 7.72 million people who left Venezuela as of November 2023, nearly 85% (about 6.54 million) settled in just 17 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. The majority are in other South American countries, including Colombia (2.88 million), Peru (1.54 million), Brazil (510,100), Ecuador (474,900) and Chile (444,400). According to the RNMA 2023, the number of people in need (PIN) in Latin America and the Caribbean has decreased to 67.8% from 73.4% across the 17 countries.

  • The PIN percentage varies by country. It is the highest (77.9%) in Ecuador, where 370,000 people need assistance. Brazil is next at 76.5%, followed by the Caribbean (75.7%) and Colombia (74.2%).
  • 17.4% of boys and 16.5% of girls are identified as people in need, compared 34.9% of men and 31.2% of women.
  • Integration, Protection and Food Security were identified as the top 3 needs in the majority of countries.

(Photo: Refugees from Venezuela have set up their own informal camp in Boa Vista, Brazil. Credit: Michael Swan; CC BY-ND 2.0)

The humanitarian, health and economic challenges were complicated because of a multi-year leadership conflict between Nicolás Maduro, who won a heavily disputed election in May 2018, and Juan Guaidó, then-leader of the National Assembly, who proclaimed himself president on Jan. 23, 2019, using a constitutional provision. The United States and at least 50 other governments worldwide recognized Guaidó as the interim president. China, Russia, several other countries, and the Venezuelan military declared their support for Maduro.

On Dec. 30, 2022, three of the four opposition parties voted to strip Guaidó of his title and role within the National Assembly. On Jan. 5, 2023, the opposition voted to appoint Dinorah Figuera as President but also voted to disband, weakening her status. Like many opposition leaders, she is in exile (Valencia, Spain), with a warrant out for her arrest.

In addition to policy choices made during the late Hugo Chavez’s 14-year presidency, the significant decline in crude oil prices from $100 a barrel in 2014 to less than $30 a barrel in 2016 meant that Venezuela’s oil dependent economy, or “petrostate”, could no longer finance itself. The U.S. sanctions, imposed after recognizing Guaido as the legitimate President, were considered to be a ‘maximum pressure policy’. Seven years later, they have only worsened losses in GDP, soaring debt, and hyperinflation (234% in 2022), exacerbating the crisis in Venezuela.

On Sept. 12, 2023, Le Monde said, “Roberto Patiño, the founder of two NGO projects to confront the social and humanitarian issues, said that economic sanctions harm ordinary people, especially the most vulnerable. ‘The humanitarian crisis started in 2016, before any sanctions were in place, resulting from a corrupt failed economic system. However, it is clear by now that sanctions have added to the hardships faced by Venezuelans’ … According to Chris Sabatini, senior research fellow at Chatham House, ‘economic sanctions were intended to make the Venezuelan people and members of Maduro’s inner circle see that they were going to suffer unless they sought change that removed Maduro and his loyalists’. Having failed, ‘sanctions have shut down pockets of private economic activity, so ordinary people have less independence from the state’. Rafael Guzman, a former National Assembly representative who headed the finance subcommittee (2016-2020) argues that sanctions have made the poorest and most vulnerable more dependent on state assistance.”

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Key facts
Source: R4V
  • As of Sept. 2023, across Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 4 million of the 6.54 million Venezuelans who have fled the country still face difficulties meeting their basic needs.
  • According to the 2023 RMNA, an average of 60% of Venezuelan refugees and migrants had secured regular status in their host countries, however, this varied by country. Status could include pending asylum claims, recognized refugee status, visas or formal residencies. Only 24% of all Venezuelans in Ecuador have regular status, while 98% of Venezuelans in Brazil do. In Colombia, where the largest percentage of Venezuelans have settled, 68% are in regular status.
  • Transparency International has given Venezuela a score of 14 (0 is highly corrupt, 100 is very clean) on its Corruptions Perceptions Index. It is ranked 177 out of 180 countries. The United States has a score of 69 and a ranking of 24 by comparison.
U.S. migration

The U.S. is a destination for many Venezuelan migrants and refugees. During 2022, there was a significant increase in Venezuelan refugees and migrants heading north through Central America and Mexico. Many had resorted to dangerous travel methods, including by boat or through the treacherous Darién Gap. This continued in 2023 when more than 500,000 people traversed the Gap. The “migration industry” is a multi-million dollar business that supports everything migrants need to make the treacherous journey.

An announcement from the Biden administration in October 2022 allows Venezuelan residents with a U.S. sponsor who will “provide housing and other supports” as well as pay for their flights, enter the country after completing an application online. This effectively stranded tens of thousands of Venezuelans in Mexico or en route to the United States with no opportunity to access the U.S.

While not technically a Safe Third County agreement, the U.S. and Mexico reached an agreement at the beginning of May 2023 that allowed the U.S. to return asylum seekers who cross through Mexico from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. The U.S. agreed to take applicants from many of these countries only if they apply from outside the country and have a U.S. sponsor.

In September 2023, the Biden Administration’s Department of Homeland Security announced an 18-month extension and redesignation of Venezuelans for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This protects all Venezuelans present in the U.S. prior to July 31, 2023 from removal and grants them employment authorization. This extension provides protected status to an estimated 472,000 Venezuelans in addition to the approximately 242,700 previously protected Venezuelans already in the U.S.

According to CBS News, in October 2023, the Biden administration announced “it had reached a deportation agreement with the Venezuelan government, a U.S.-sanctioned regime that had long refused to accept the return of its citizens. Officials at the time vowed to deport those found to be ineligible for asylum or a temporary legal status the Biden administration offered to 472,000 Venezuelans who arrived before July 31. On Oct. 18, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carried out its first-ever deportation flight to Venezuela. The agency has since staged weekly deportation flights there, deporting hundreds of Venezuelan adults under a process known as expedited removal.”

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, nearly 335,000 Venezuelans entered the country via a land crossing. After Mexicans, Venezuelans were the second-largest nationality stopped at the U.S. border, surpassing Cubans, Guatemalans and Hondurans.

So far in FY 2024 (October 2023), just under 46,000 Venezuelans attempted to cross into the U.S. at a land border crossing.

Venezuelan elections

It is expected that Venezuela will hold a presidential vote in 2024. Even before the October 2023 presidential primaries, there were concerns that Maduro was already fixing the process and eliminating the possibility of a fair vote. This included dismantling the national electoral council in June 2023 by forcing the members to resign and restaffing it in a new process led by the Venezuelan First Lady.

On June 22, a group of House Democrats sent a letter to President Biden asking the “administration to ease sanctions on Venezuela, make more aid available and assess the conditions necessary for a possible re-establishment of diplomatic relations in an effort to alleviate the economic crisis there.”

A June 30, 2023 letter from the U.S. Department of State, said, “The United States supports the Venezuelan people’s constitutional right to elect their leaders via free and fair elections. Today’s decision to disqualify Maria Corina Machado from participating in the electoral process deprives the Venezuelan people of basic political rights. Venezuelans deserve the right to select a candidate to participate in presidential elections in 2024 without interference. The United States also remains deeply concerned by the ongoing efforts to remake the composition of the National Electoral Council (CNE) of Venezuela. A strong and independent CNE is indispensable for free, fair, and competitive elections.  Ensuring all Venezuelan voices are represented in the CNE adds to its credibility and bolsters voter confidence. We stand in solidarity with all Venezuelans in their efforts to achieve free and fair elections in 2024, the restoration of democratic institutions, and an end to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. We will continue to work with our international partners to address the urgent needs of Venezuelans inside and outside their country. The United States will also hold accountable those who seek to thwart the will of the Venezuelan people.”

The European Union issued a similar statement on July 3, 2023. The Maduro government responded, saying it would not allow independent observers from the European Union.

Then, following the October 2023 presidential primaries, Venezuela’s Supreme Justice Tribunal suspended the results of the opposition primary, in which Maria Corina Machado won.

Most recently, with the help of Norwegian diplomatic negotiators, Maduro’s government and the opposition reached an agreement on a process that would allow presidential candidates banned from running for office to appeal their bans.

Regardless, Maduro is expected to win the election in 2024. Despite this, there is an opportunity for the Biden Administration to seek concessions now in exchange for the removal of sanctions.

A report from The Hill said, “The Biden administration is in talks with Venezuela to exchange sanctions relief for a free election in the South American country, according to a report by Bloomberg.”

If Maduro wins, as expected, it is likely that he will be recognized as the leader by other governments in the region. Spain’s recognition is also likely to sway the European Union into a better relationship with Maduro and Venezuela. In the meantime, the people of Venezuela, both those that remain in-country and those that have fled, continue to suffer significant humanitarian needs.

A two-pronged approach is required to support the crisis in Venezuela.

  • The situation within Venezuela is dire, and the needs are immense. To support the needs of Venezuelans within the country, funders should focus on funding local actors or international NGOs with humanitarian access.
  • As a result of the immense displacement, there are many host countries who are also in need of philanthropic assistance to help provide support for the affected countries. NGOs in these countries, and UN actors, also need support to respond to the many needs of displaced Venezuelans.
Source: UNOCHA

All areas of response have not served the number of people identified in the Humanitarian Response Plan. The biggest gap is in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) where 515,000 people out of a goal of 4.6 million have been reached.

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

WASH assistance is important, especially within Venezuela, but also for migrants while traveling in and out of the country. For example. assistance with water distribution, such as purchase of water tanker trucks, wells and water purification units.

Within Venezuela

An August 2019 report by Transparency International found that only 18% of the Venezuelan population had access to clean drinking water. In the same year, analysts projected “some 20 million Venezuelans have lost access to water or gone through water shortages this year, reflecting a lack of investment and mismanagement of the country’s water system.”

Information about water quality is hard to determine as the Maduro government does not openly share data. However, it is clear that the country’s water treatment and supply systems require pumps that are vulnerable to electrical power shortages.

According to OCHA’s current Humanitarian Response Plan, approximately 4.6 million Venezuelans are in need of WASH support, requiring over $125 million USD to fund. These needs range from improved access to safe drinking water sources, including those in education and health facilities, and distribution of safe drinking water (particularly to rural areas), to repairing inoperable wastewater treatment plants. Additionally, basic cleaning supplies like soap and menstrual hygiene products are critically short.

Outside of Venezuela

The RMNA 2023 found that 43.3% or 2.83 million migrants and refugees from Venezuela, were in need of WASH assistance. Refugees and migrants face inadequate access to basic water and sanitation services.

  • “Refugees and migrants often live in overcrowded conditions in peri-urban and rural areas, leading to increased risks of water-borne diseases and water scarcity … in informal settlements in Colombia, 58 percent of Venezuelan households do not have regular access to water, 53 percent have toilets outside their homes, and 39 per cent reported open defecation practices.
  • These conditions are exacerbated in areas prone to extreme weather events connected to climate change, like northern Peru, where heavy rainfall and flooding in 2023 disproportionately worsened water scarcity for vulnerable populations, including refugees and migrants.
  • With increasing arrivals in many border and rural areas, the high demand for services has generated stress on pre-existing WASH facilities, including those in public institutions, such as schools and health care facilities and shelters. Indigenous communities have experienced negative effects on their water resources, which are used as a primary hydration source by refugees and migrants in Guyana and Panama.
  • Another challenge identified by refugees and migrants relates to access to hygiene supplies. In Panama, it is estimated that at least 30 percent of the population in-transit needs hygiene and dignity kits for vulnerable groups. Women and girls across the region reported limited availability of menstrual hygiene items, financial barriers and inadequate facilities, which negatively impact their health, dignity, and quality of life. In Colombia, 57 per cent of the in-transit population and 40 percent of households in-destination reported difficulties accessing menstrual hygiene items.
  • Reports from “across the region also highlight significant concerns stemming from inadequate waste management and sanitation conditions for refugee and migrant households. Informal settlements in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru where high concentrations of refugees and migrants live amidst vulnerable host communities reported a lack of sustainable waste management practices, exposed to vector-borne diseases, leading to adverse effects on their health, well-being and the environment.”
Hunger and malnutrition

Within Venezuela

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), Venezuela “imports more than 70 percent of the consumed processed foods and is extremely vulnerable to international price fluctuations.”

The 2023 Global Hunger Index ranked Venezuela 75th “out of the 121 countries with sufficient data to calculate 2023 GHI scores. With a score of 17.3, Venezuela has a level of hunger that is moderate.”

Since July 2021, WFP has been providing food assistance, primarily through school meals and school kitchen refurbishment and some disaster food support. According to WFP’s October 2023 Country Brief, ” Despite signs of economic recovery, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) continues to face a challenging socioeconomic situation, exacerbated by global supply chain disruptions, food price increases and other external factors.”

On Jan. 8, 2024, the Venezuelan Observatory of Finance reported that inflation reduced in 2023 and now stands at 193%, which contrasts with a 305% increase in 2022.

Source: Observatorio Venezolano de Finanzas

Bloomberg created the “Venezuela Café Con Leche Index” to track inflation using the price of a cup of coffee as the measurement. According to the index, as of Jan. 3, 2023, the price of a cup of coffee was 44.65 bolivars. As of Dec. 26, 2023, the price had risen to 89.45 bolivars, an increase of 101%. This is $2.49 USD.

Similarly, a weekly food basket to help a family of four survive (aimed to be 60% of caloric need) costs 1,202.50 bolivars ($34.52 USD) as of Sept. 9, 2023. The increase in cost is higher than what Venezuelans are allocated for spending through the government’s basket ticket program, meaning the basket won’t even reach 60% of caloric need as families will have to remove some items. Food prices grew from September 2022 to September 2023, by 381%. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network predicted that from October 2023 to January 2024, 2.5 million people would need food assistance.

Food insecurity has been exacerbated by the high costs of fuel. Farmers are unable to obtain enough fuel to operate their equipment, thereby reducing the amount of land capable of producing crops. Similar situations have occurred in the sugar mills and dairy industry.

In FAO’s 2023 Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition for Latin America and the Caribbean, Venezuela has the second highest prevalence of hunger score of 17.9% (second only to Bolivia at 18.7%), an increase of 14.2% from 2015. Venezuela’s children under five years old also show a prevalence of stunting, a generally accepted indicator of malnutrition, of just over 10%.

UNOCHA partners are reporting engagement in negative coping strategies by vulnerable communities, such as reducing meal size or certain food items, and an increasing number of people, especially women, offering essential items as part of the informal economy. In local markets, a lack of purchasing power impacts the sale of some items.

In the agricultural sector, the fungus Fusarium Tropical race 4 (FoC TR4) has been found in the central states of Aragua, Carabobo and Cojedes, which poses a threat to the production of Musaceae, a staple food in the country and a means of livelihood for many people. There is also concern about the continued impact of the yellow dragon disease on citrus, particularly in the states of Yaracuy and Carabobo.

Current responses to this food insecurity and malnutrition range from provision of nutritious school meals, restoration of school kitchens and cafeterias, and direct household food distribution, to provision of supplies necessary for agricultural, livestock, and fishing production and processing, and technical assistance and training for the maintenance, protection, and creation of livelihoods.

Outside of Venezuela

The RMNA 2023 found that 3.18 million people (48.8%) living in one of the 17 countries after leaving Venezuela were facing food insecurity. This was fairly evenly balanced across gender and age (men-47.5%, women-47.9%, boys-49.9% and girls-49.8%.) This was highest in Bolivia (71.2% and 11,300 people) and lowest in Mexico (12% and 13,600 people). In Colombia, which has the highest number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela, 48.7% (1.41 million) are in need of food support.

  • “Compared to other regions globally, the cost of a nutritious diet is highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, leaving millions unable to afford adequate and nutritious meals.”
  • Ongoing socio-political instability in several countries and the potential climate impacts of El Niño conditions in 2023 are anticipated to further affect food production and regional food systems.
  • The food security of refugees and migrants is intrinsically linked to economic opportunities, or a lack thereof. Inadequate access to income-generating activities prevents them from affording three daily meals with a minimum nutritional value to guarantee a dignified, safe, and healthy life.”

As noted above, malnutrition, stunting and food insecurity are common. Government food programs are not adequate to meet needs, even with support from groups such as WFP. In and out of country, Venezuelans need nutrition support and supplementation of food. This can include provision of meals, distribution of high-energy, portable, emergency rations at migration checkpoints, vouchers to purchase local food in Venezuela or receiving countries and agricultural support.

In the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) 2022-2023 for Venezuela, 2.5 million people were targeted to receive food security support and nutritional interventions. As of October 2023, WFP had distributed 222 metric tons of food assistance. Yet, the six-month projection of funding needs from November 2023 to April 2024 is $61.5 million USD, representing about 62% of total needs.


Within Venezuela

Since May 2022, the monthly minimum wage in Venezuela is 130 bolivars, which is equivalent to $3.66 USD in December 2023. Even people earning several times the minimum wage struggle to survive. It is the lowest minimum wage across Latin America. In the past several months, this has decreased by 25%.

The average monthly salary in Venezuela is $24 (USD) as of Dec. 1, 2023. This is the lowest of 178 countries on BDEEX’ rating of salaries by country. By comparison, the average salary in the U.S. is $3,300 for a ranking of 18th. The next lowest countries are Syria (177), with an average salary of $40 and Sudan (176) with an average salary of $41. The United Nations considers $57 to be the rate of extreme poverty. While Venezuelan employees are entitled to an aguinaldo or Christmas bonus (ranging from 15 days to 4 months’ pay) and a vacation bonus, these pittances are woefully insufficient for economic security.

According to UNOCHA’s latest Situation Report of Oct. 17, 2023, “The purchasing power of people in vulnerable conditions, especially those who depend on sources of fixed income or informal jobs, such as the elderly population and women heads of household, has been affected by the increase in the price of the basic food basket and the devaluation of the national currency and inflation. According to price monitoring for this period, all food items rose in price, especially popularly consumed proteins such as milk, cheese and eggs. According to the most recent update of the report from the Central Bank of Venezuela, the accumulated inflation of the year until September is 158.3%.”

OCHA continues to coordinate the provision of supplies for the production and processing of agricultural, livestock, and fishing yields, as well as technical assistance and training for the maintenance, protection, and creation of livelihoods.

Outside of Venezuela

According to UNHCR, “Cross-border displacement and mixed movements from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela continue to significantly outnumber return movements.”

Receiving countries, in particular, need support providing shelter or financial assistance to Venezuelans. Approximately 53% of affected host community members require humanitarian assistance, including settlement and community infrastructure interventions. UNHCR continues to coordinate enhanced access to temporary collective shelters for arriving Venezuelan migrants, access to individual shelters through rental programmes, and provision of unconditional cash transfers. These cash transfers help Venezuelan migrants contribute to local host community economies by buying supplies in local markets and paying rent to local landlords. Since 2019, UNHCR has delivered cash assistance to over 700,000 Venezuelans across the region.

Provide cash transfers

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy recommends cash both as a donation method and a recovery strategy. Direct cash assistance can allow families to purchase items and services that address their multiple needs. It gives each family flexibility and choice, ensuring that support is relevant and timely. Cash-based approaches to disaster recovery also give people the freedom to choose how they rebuild their lives and provide a pathway to economic empowerment. In countries with a functioning market system, cash transfers allow people to purchase supplies according to their needs.

Cash donations to nonprofits (rather than supplies, except where directly requested) are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from supporting disaster recovery needs and quickly re-establishing access to basic needs.


Within Venezuela

Johns Hopkins University shared a health study on a webinar organized by CDP for the Simon Bolivar Foundation on health needs within Venezuela. The 2022 study found:

  • “The political and economic crisis over the past five years has severely crippled the country’s health and health system. The situation has been exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • “Contrary to the regional life expectancy rates, Venezuela’s life expectancy has decreased.”
  • Venezuela saw a 5% increase in maternal mortality during this period and infant deaths were 63.6% higher in 2016 than 2012. “While global rates have decreased, infant and under-five mortality rates in Venezuela have increased in the past 20 years. Children under 1 year of age account for ~80% of deaths under 5 years. Primary causes of neonatal deaths include prematurity (40%), congenital anomalies (17%), sepsis (16%), injury (20%), pneumonia (17%). Primary causes of death in children 1-4 years of age include injury (20%), pneumonia (17%) and diarrhea (11%).”
  • “Vaccination coverage in Venezuela is well below the regional average, with a resurgence of many vaccine-preventable diseases, most notably measles. Malaria: increased 893% from 2007 to 2017 – contrary to regional trends.”

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) report in July 2023 said, “Health centres report structural underfunding and understaffing resulting in for example, regular blackouts and water shortages. One civil society organisation estimated that hospitals nationwide are only able to cover the costs for 35-40 per cent of emergency materials and 60 per cent of emergency medicines. The cost of these items would be mostly borne by patients and their families, limiting access to health facilities, goods and services, while disproportionately impacting those in need of lifesaving treatments, including transplants.”

Most recently, UNOCHA’s Situation Report on Oct. 17, 2023 highlights ongoing needs to ensure access to essential medicines, surgical supplies, and equipment especially for care of those with communicable diseases like malaria, arboviruses, water-borne diseases HIV, STIs, and COVID-19. Additionally, it remains necessary to support the specialized treatment of more complex diseases such as cancer. In the medium and long-terms, enhancing disease surveillance capacities and the vaccination coverage is critical.

Outside of Venezuela

Health is an issue for 54.3% of refugees and migrants from Venezuela (3.54 million people).

The RMNA 2023 said: “Once they are in their countries of intended destination, depending on their status and other requirements for accessing health services, refugees and migrants often face obstacles receiving healthcare. These obstacles include fear of rejection in health centers due to being in an irregular situation (reportedly experienced by 20 per cent of refugees and migrants in Chile), lack of health insurance (affecting 40 per cent of Venezuelans in Colombia) and lack of valid documentation (the reason given by 53 per cent of refugees and migrants in Panama for not having health insurance). Furthermore, insufficient information on how to access health systems in host countries often delays refugees and migrants from seeking timely healthcare … Other challenges identified across the region include administrative barriers to registration in health insurance systems, lack of resources to cover costs of medical services,113 transportation limitations, and linguistic and cultural disparities. Additionally, limited access to medical assistance is often exacerbated by a lack of qualified personnel, equipment, supplies and adequate infrastructure in health facilities.”

A CDP-led webinar reviewed a report on the health status and challenges of Venezuelans who have been displaced to other countries in the Americas region.

This 2022 report found that: “Many Venezuelans had pre-existing medical conditions that had gone untreated for quite some time and faced increased health risks during their journeys, such as sexual and gender-based violence. They are further challenged for various reasons in accessing quality health care in their hosting countries … Globally, forcibly displaced populations are increasingly facing the triple burden of chronic noncommunicable diseases (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory conditions, and cancer), infectious diseases (e.g., tuberculosis, HIV, hepatitis), and psychiatric illnesses (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder, depression), which accurately reflects the situation of displaced Venezuelans in the Americas region … Women and girls, Indigenous peoples, particularly female Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, the elderly, members of the LGBTQI community, and children, particularly unaccompanied and separated minors, face additional acute health care access barriers, and relatedly require specific and specialized support they are currently not receiving.”

Medical support

There are a number of recommendations for how to help Venezuelans inside and outside the country, in the two research reports commissioned by the Simon Bolivar Foundation. The following are a few highlights of the ways funders could help, but more information and ideas are available in the report.

  • “Invest in healthcare prevention measures and increased, specialized medical care for the displaced Venezuelan population in the Americas region. Prevention measures associated with healthcare can be cost-effective, provide value for money and give returns on investment in the short and longer term.
  • Focus on the health and wellbeing of women and girls. Across all geographies, women’s and girls’ health needs were acute. They lacked significant resources and support services, with substantial deficits in support for Indigenous women and all displaced adolescent girls.
  • Support family planning, including access to long-acting contraceptives and emergency contraception for instances of rape and incest. While pervasive before the COVID-19 pandemic, gender-based violence has exponentially increased during it.
  • Support the establishment of mobile clinics in rural areas, particularly at transit locations that offer a suite of services for women and children.
  • Support increased vaccine access for the standard childhood vaccines recommended by the World Health Organization in clinics/medical institutions serving displaced Venezuelans.
  • Focus on communicable diseases. This research demonstrates an increase in infectious diseases across the region, particularly prevalent in the displaced population due to poor living conditions and lack of access to regular healthcare. Care options for those with STIs and HIV/AIDs were lacking in every geography, urban and rural.
  • Focus on mental health. Across all locations and all population demographics within the displaced Venezuelan community in the region, there was one commonality: the extreme prevalence of mental health conditions and the need for significant resources to be channeled into addressing the psychosocial needs of the displaced. This is a particularly acute need within displaced Venezuelan youth across the region whose mental health has been chronically neglected.
  • Invest as local as is possible and as international as necessary through supporting local and national NGOs. Across the region, there are robust civil society actors who are from and live with communities affected by displacement and violence.”
  • Consider longer-term investments in health systems strengthening and programs to support access to appropriate legal status for displaced persons to access public healthcare systems in host countries.”

Almost half (46.1%) of people across the 17 hosting countries were in need of educational support. This includes over 60.9% of boys and 61% of girls. In Trinidad and Tobago, 99% of children are out of school. By contrast, only 1% of students are out of class in Argentina.

The RMNA 2023 says:

  • “Refugee and migrant children face multiple challenges in exercising their right to education. These challenges stem from obstacles that prevent access to and permanence in education institutions in their host countries.
  • Another important need affecting school attendance is families’ lack of economic means to cover costs for enrolment and essential supplies, such as school materials, transportation, and uniforms.
  • Meanwhile, densely populated urban areas are facing increased demand for enrolment slots in schools, further contributing to refugees’ and migrants’ access challenges, along with a widespread lack of information on how local education systems (including enrolment procedures) operate.
  • Cross-cutting needs which impact refugee and migrant children’s enrolment and performance in schools also include discrimination, xenophobia, violence and a lack of mitigation of learning gaps due to low levels of literacy and numeracy.”

In the RMNA 2023, 63.8% or 4.16 million people in the 17 hosting countries were identified as in need of protection.

  • “Most refugees and migrants cannot meet states’ requirements for regular entry, and therefore have no alternative than to resort to irregular routes, many of which are controlled by smugglers and traffickers, on which they endure dangerous conditions. In some countries, refugees and migrants face militarized border controls, are denied entry, detained, or expelled from the territories, often in violation of the principle of non-refoulement under International Human Rights and Refugee Law.
  • In addition, a significant number of Venezuelans still need regular status and protection in their host countries, despite significant ongoing efforts to promote their access to asylum, temporary protection, regularization and other regular stay arrangements.
  • In the absence of regular status, refugees and migrants face great barriers to effectively exercising their rights and accessing protection services, including justice, psychological support, family reunification and support for survivors of gender-based violence, as well as other essential services, including healthcare, education, adequate housing, livelihoods and WASH.
  • Refugees and migrants in several countries also report fear of experiencing – or have already experienced – manifestations of xenophobia, which cause further barriers to accessing services.
  • Regarding the need to prevent, mitigate and respond to protection risks, Venezuelans in multiple countries report fear of violence in their communities, often leading to further displacement or significant protection risks. For instance, where there is either internal conflict and/or criminal groups engaged in illicit economies, refugees and migrants are under threat of forced recruitment, physical violence, and sexual exploitation, with indigenous peoples often particularly impacted, given cultural and language barriers as well as intersectional specific needs.
  • Furthermore, Venezuelans continue to be at greater risk of various forms of violence and human rights violations, including human trafficking, smuggling, gender-based violence, exploitation and abuse of children, labour exploitation, incidents of xenophobia, discrimination, and the impacts of climate change and disasters.
  • Finally, groups identified as having special protection needs include children (especially those who are unaccompanied or separated), LGBTQI+ persons, older persons, persons living with HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence survivors, persons engaged in transactional sex, pregnant women, single mothers traveling with children, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples.”
Migration support
In receiving countries, longer-term supports for employment, health care and housing are required. Due to the high percentage of Venezuelans in an “irregular situation” (lack of legal status in the host country), they may not access needed services, making them even more vulnerable. Supports with legal help for documentation, payment of application fees, etc., are necessary.
Women and girls

Marianne Menjivar, Director of the Venezuelan Crisis Response at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), says, “In a world where women are exposed to different types of violence just for being who they are, those who live in the midst of a humanitarian crisis are even at a higher risk. This is particularly the case for women who have been displaced, as they encounter multiple needs and risks in their country of origin, along the migration route and even in the places where they settle.”

The report released in November 2023 by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) indicates that female refugees continue to experience gender-based violence (GBV).

Analyzing data gathered from GBV prevention and response programs implemented by NGOs across Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, the IRC found that, “Psychological violence was the most frequently mentioned type in most countries, accounting for 43% of cases in Ecuador, 78% in Peru, and 65% in Venezuela. In Colombia, where it constituted 37% of cases, it was the second most common type.”

Physical violence was very close behind. In fact, in May 2023 Colombia declared a national emergency due to the escalation in violence against women.

CDP has a Global Recovery Fund that provides an opportunity for donors to meet the ongoing and ever-expanding challenges presented by global crises.

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Philanthropic contributions

If you have questions about donating to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, need help with your disaster-giving strategy or want to share how you’re responding to this disaster, please contact development.

(Photo: A group of children arriving to a community lunch preparation as part of the recovery and rebuild humanitarian aid program. Credit: Jose Luis Molero / The Wayuu Taya Foundation)

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Philanthropic and government support

In October 2022, CDP provided a $200,000 grant to the Wayuu Taya Foundation, which supports the Indigenous Wayuu people who are located primarily along the Guajira Peninsula on the Colombia and Venezuela border. Through this grant, CDP worked with Wayuu Taya to develop an entrepreneurial model for sustainable water solutions that will continue to generate income and allow them to build wells in remote indigenous communities and schools and healthcare centers along the border for years to come.

This grant is the second CDP grant to Wayuu Taya. The first grant, for $100,000 in 2020, had an outsized impact. Wayuu Taya Foundation’s President, Patricia Velasquez, attributes much of their success – shown in this video – to that first grant to build their first well, from which their other programming including sustainable water, agricultural farming, training programs and school hygiene programs stemmed. After CDP’s initial grant, Wayuu Taya Foundation was able to leverage this to secure more partnerships from many other international funders. This demonstrates what a huge impact can come from even small investments in organizations seeking to implement local, long-term solutions in their communities.

CDP provided a $250,000 grant in August 2022 to International Medical Corps from its COVID-19 Response Fund to improve COVID-19 vaccine access in remote indigenous communities in the Cedeño municipality of Bolívar state in Venezuela, by providing logistics support to transport and store vaccines; donating equipment to hospitals to store vaccines; strengthening the capacity of local vaccinators; and raising awareness about COVID-19 vaccines through community activities.

Simón Bolívar Foundation Inc., the nonprofit private foundation of CITGO Petroleum Corporation, awarded $1.68 million in grant funding to seven organizations as part of its Colombia-Ecuador-Peru Humanitarian Health Grants program in November 2022. These grants were designed to support projects addressing “the health needs of the vulnerable migrant community and host populations in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru … The projects are estimated to benefit more than 30,000 people in need, including mothers and children, train more than 300 health professionals and provide more than 270,000 healthy and nutritious meals.”

The Ford Foundation has made several grants to support work in Venezuela including a $2 million, two-year grant in 2022 to Pan Health America Organization to increase equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and diagnostic and clinical care for populations in situations of vulnerability in the Americas. They also provided a $500,000 grant in 2021 to People in Need for the creation of a Venezuelan Resilience Fund to enable civil society organizations and human rights defenders in Venezuela to overcome the challenges generated by closing civic space and the consequences of COVID-19. A 13-month grant of $110,000 was made in 2021 to openDemocracy Limited to expand coverage and reporting on the Venezuelan crisis including the closing of civic space, the migration exodus, and the consequences of the complex humanitarian emergency on vulnerable populations of ethnic communities and women. A grant in 2020 for $90,000 to Grupo de Trabajo Socioambiental de la Amazonía, Wataniba supported the protection of the rights of the Yanomami and Uwottja People as they struggle against the effects of illegal mining, COVID-19 and the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis.

Since 2017, U.S. foreign assistance in response to the crisis in Venezuela has totaled $2.7 billion, of which $2.3 billion is humanitarian aid. In September 2022, the U.S. announced “nearly $376 million in new humanitarian assistance to respond to the needs of vulnerable Venezuelans in Venezuela, Venezuelan refugees and migrants, and their generous host communities across the region … This humanitarian assistance includes more than $181 million through the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and more than $194 million through the U.S. Agency for International Development.”

This is in addition to the “nearly $314 million [that] was announced in new humanitarian, health, economic, and development assistance for Venezuelan refugees and vulnerable migrants across the hemisphere at the Ninth Summit of Americas on June 10, 2022.”

The United Nations 2022-2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Venezuela, released in August 2022, calls for $795 million in aid. As of May 23, 2023, the appeal has been 34.8% funded ($276.6 million), with 62%/$171.5 million of that coming from the U.S. Other top contributors include European Commission ($47.5 million), Germany ($9.1 million), Canada ($8.9 million) and Sweden ($8.2) million.

In mid-March 2023, a conference in Brussels raised awareness and funds for Venezuela’s crisis.

In late April, the International Conference on the Political Process in Venezuela was held in Bogotá, Colombia to bring together delegations from 19 countries in Latin America, North America and Europe. Organized by Colombian President Gustavo Petro, the goal was to help restart negotiations between the opposition and the government that stalled in Mexico City in late 2022. Neither the opposition nor government was invited to the Bogotá event. It was agreed that the next steps would include: establishing a schedule for an upcoming election in 2024, continuing with the Mexico negotiations and a progressive lifting of sanctions.

During the Mexico City negotiations in November 2022, the Maduro administration and the opposition party had agreed “to create a $3 billion social fund drawn from various Venezuelan seized assets to invest in education, healthcare and infrastructure repairs. The UN will be in charge of distributing the money while a Venezuelan joint commission would follow and verify its correct implementation.”

On May 21, 2023, the U.S. government indicated “the money could operate within the US financial system without the risk of creditors seizing it to repay outstanding Venezuelan debt. The UN-administered fund could be released by the end of the month.”

The Brookings Institute has been highlighting the underfunding of Venezuelan refugees, especially in comparison to other refugee crises like Syria or South Sudan. In February 2021, they said, “Based on the figures for 2020, total funding per refugee amounts to $3,150 per Syrian, $1,390 per South Sudanese, and just $265 per Venezuelan. In other words, funding for the Syrian refugees has been over 10 times larger than for Venezuelans, in per capita terms. Even if we generously assume that the U.N. appeal for 2021 is fully met, the total amount of funding for the Venezuelan refugee crisis would reach $3 billion, which translates into less than $600 per person. Even in the best-case scenario, the Venezuelan refugee crisis will remain severely underfunded.”

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