Our intervention in response to the regional crisis in Venezuela. Francesca Matarazzi from the INTERSOS Emergency Unit tells us about it.
The political and socio-economic crisis in Venezuela has forced some 5 million people, 5% of the total population, to leave their country over the past three years to seek better living and working opportunities in other parts of Latin America. Out of the Venezuelans remaining in the country, as many as 7 million live in dire need, according to OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) estimates and most of them are elderly and infants. 60% of those fleeing are instead women and children.
INTERSOS is responding to this crisis by intervening in both Venezuela and Colombia, particularly in border areas. “The numbers of this crisis are comparable to those of Syria,” says Francesca Matarazzi, member of the INTERSOS Emergency Unit, who has just returned to Italy from Colombia. “What we are witnessing at the border between the two countries is a flow of desperate people fleeing poverty in Venezuela, who arrive in Colombia or in other countries of the same region, often without documents and through illegal passages controlled by armed groups, finding themselves in a situation of further vulnerability and without the right to access basic essential services“.
“Most of them find themselves living on the streets and in the various informal settlements without access to basic health services, which are only guaranteed to those who manage to make a formal application for asylum. Unfortunately, these are few and limited cases, since the bureaucratic procedure, already very complex and long for Venezuelans, became even more complicated because of the COVID-19 emergency. Among these people,” says Francesca, “there are also many Colombians who had sought refuge from violence and conflict in Venezuela and who now want to return to their country where they don’t have anything anymore. In addition, at the border we also meet many commuters and Venezuelans who want to go back, having lost their economic income and informal work as a result of the lockdown and the measures against COVID-19″. In such a complex situation of social and health emergency, INTERSOS has activated projects to support the population in both countries.
INTERSOS humanitarian interventions in Venezuela
In Venezuela, in the states of Tachira, Apure and Merida, an INTERSOS team made up of international staff and local aid workers is involved in activities related to child protection, health and access to water and sanitation in public health clinics. In addition, with the support of UNICEF, “defensoria hospitalaria” systems have been set up in some hospitals to provide psychological and legal support to children without documents, victims of abuse and unaccompanied minors for whom systems are set up to reunite them with their families or host them in centres or foster families.
“With regard specifically to health-related projects,” explains Francesca, who from the beginning of the intervention in 2019 until now has been in Venezuela several times to initiate and follow up the mission, “our activities include trainings for health personnel working in state health centres and in the meantime,” she adds, “we are negotiating an agreement with the Venezuelan authorities to provide nine state-run clinics with medicines, machinery and health equipment. In addition, integrated health and protection services will be set up through three mobile clinics run by doctors and psychologists“.
INTERSOS in Colombia
In Colombia, INTERSOS’ work is currently more focused on protecting migrants and refugees but also internally displaced persons affected by the conflict. “We provide psychological support, manage difficult cases, deal with legal assistance and support for migrants and we also give vouchers to those who are most in need, to meet medical expenses or to pay rent in case of emergency,” explains Francesca. “Last December,” she adds, “we started a new project with the refugee foundation Stichting Vluchteling (SV) for the distribution of hygiene kits and monetary vouchers because,” she says, “if the living conditions were already dramatic before, now, with COVID-19, they have become much worse“.
How important is it for INTERSOS to work in both Venezuela and Colombia, particularly near the borders? “We are among the few international organisations that do this,” says Francesca, “working on the borders is an added value because we can have a different and wider impact with our projects, we can follow up our assistance on both sides. Our national teams, Venezuelan and Colombian, have the possibility to activate simultaneously to provide assistance to those people or to entire families who move from one country to another“.