At the Colombia-Venezuela border, “the needs are huge and the humanitarian response is almost non-existent”
The Venezuelan crisis is forcing thousands of people to leave the country. Many of them – including families and unaccompanied children – have made their way to Colombia, where they face atrocious living conditions. Marion Prats, our child protection specialist in humanitarian crises, gives us her impressions after visiting the region.
Venezuela is currently facing a major political, social and economic crisis. The economic collapse, hyperinflation, insufficient food and medicine, and lack of basic services such as hospitals and schools have led tens of thousands of Venezuelans to cross the borders of their country. The exact number of migrants is unknown: 462,000 Venezuelans have officially registered in Colombia, but this figure may be as high as one million. The number of migrants is only likely to grow between now and the end of the year.
Migrant families in Colombia are extremely vulnerable, often crossing the border illegally with very few possessions. According to Marion Prats, Tdh’s child protection specialist in humanitarian crises who visited Villa del Rosario and Puerto Santander in the north of the country, “Most of these people do not have access to basic healthcare and lack information on managing their arrival. They have trouble finding a place to stay and end up in the street or sleeping 30 in a room. To survive, they have to sell their belongings, work in the informal sector, resort to trafficking or to petty crime. Women often have no choice but to sell their hair (for the hair extension market) or work as prostitutes.”
Many migrant children are alone without their parents. “The situation for children is alarming. Many must work, sometimes from as young as six. They face stigmatisation and are at huge risk of sexual violence. They lack access to schooling and appropriate housing. There have even been cases of children being trafficked, sold and hired out,” said Marion.
Despite the difficult conditions and the enourmous needs, very few organisations provide support in the field. “The needs are huge and the humanitarian response is almost non-existent. People – and especially children – have almost nothing.” Tdh’s teams are currently working to raise awareness among donors and members of the public and to provide appropriate aid and protect the most vulnerable children.