Virtual Venezuela pledging event moves ahead as COVID-19 pushes needs to $1.41B

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Venezuelans return to their home country with the help of the Colombian migration office amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Cucuta, Colombia. Photo by: REUTERS / Mario Caicedo

WASHINGTON — An online pledging conference for Venezuela will take place later this month as the revised 2020 Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for Venezuelans calls for $1.41 billion to integrate the COVID-19 pandemic into humanitarian activities in host countries.

The pledging conference, originally scheduled to take place in Washington on the sidelines of the World Bank’s Spring Meetings, will now happen virtually on May 26, according to William Spindler, senior external engagement coordinator at UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for the Americas. It will be co-hosted by Spain and the European Union and co-convened by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. Spindler said he expects the World Bank to participate in the virtual format.

A virtual pledging conference? Venezuela could be first

There is no precedent for hosting a major pledging event online, but many Latin American countries are in urgent need of assistance to support Venezuelan migrants and refugees.

“With State capacities under extreme pressure, social service provision at its limits and xenophobic trends on the rise, there is an urgent need to complement states’ efforts to support host communities,” said Eduardo Stein, joint UNHCR-IOM special representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, in the revised response plan released Tuesday.

“Additional support is essential to meet both immediate, humanitarian needs and to address longer-term development gaps to facilitate the socio-economic inclusion of refugees and migrants as an opportunity for all,” Stein continued.

The regional response to the Venezuela crisis, which has seen 5.1 million flee the country’s economic collapse and political unrest, was vastly underfunded even before the coronavirus pandemic began straining international aid resources. The original plan, released in November, called for $1.35 billion but is less than 4% funded, according to IOM.

“Regional coordination efforts are more required than ever to develop more coherent approaches and scale-up interventions.”

— A spokesperson at the International Organization for Migration

The revised plan estimates that $438.81 million of the $1.41 billion request will be needed for COVID-19 activities. It targets 4.11 million people in 17 countries, with the health sector needing the largest pandemic-related requirement at $131.63 million. “Overstretched” public health services in the regional countries hosting Venezuelans are expected to be challenged by the pandemic, the plan said, calling for unimpeded access for refugees and migrants to health and sanitary facilities.

As the global scope of the coronavirus grew in early 2020, humanitarian groups recognized the original plan for the year would need to be modified to include urgent activities related to the public health emergency. More funds would be required to help migrants and refugees meet basic health, food, shelter, and hygiene needs as governments in the region imposed measures restricting daily movement and access to the informal job market where many Venezuelans had found work.

Loss of employment is expected to drive more refugees and migrants into homelessness and food insecurity while increasing protection risks. A joint rapid needs assessment released earlier this month by 17 organizations operating in Colombia found that work as a main source of income has dropped by about 80%, the number of families eating only one meal a day has grown by 700%, and 32% percent of people only have enough income to cover expenses for one day.

The strain has sent thousands of Venezuelans back to their country through a humanitarian channel kept open by the Colombian government after the border was officially closed on March 14.

The government of Colombia, which is hosting the largest portion of Venezuelans, has repeatedly called for increased international support to help the country meet the needs of the estimated 1.8 million refugees and migrants inside its borders. In April, it released a six-point plan outlining how it will continue to meet the needs of such people during the pandemic.

Of the $782.26 million in identified need for Colombia, the revised response plan requests $296.77 million for COVID-19 financial requirements to assist 2.26 million people in the country.

The requested money will help provide the population throughout the region with personal protective equipment and vital information about the public health emergency, establish mobile health facilities for coronavirus testing, and upgrade shelters to allow adequate physical spacing. Other humanitarian programs are being adapted to comply with government mobility restrictions, including using cash assistance.

“In the context of the current global public health emergency, national capacities become stretched to a breaking point and the wellbeing and safety of Venezuelans and their host communities is at risk,” an IOM spokesperson told Devex via email. “At this critical stage, regional coordination efforts are more required than ever to develop more coherent approaches and scale-up interventions.”

About the author

  • Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh has reported from more than 10 countries and is currently based in Washington, D.C. Her coverage focuses on Latin America; U.S. foreign assistance policy; fragile states; food systems and nutrition; and refugees and migration. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa worked at McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She was a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.