×

Search form

Refugees in Colombia

Venezuela's hidden crisis: its children's unknown futures

The collapse of Venezuela’s political and economic systems has driven 3 million people to leave what was once the wealthiest country in South America.

About 1.2 million of them now live in Colombia. Venezuela's neighbor has opened its borders to the refugees—even as 7 million Colombians are internally displaced as a result of a decades-long civil war.

Caroline Kennedy, an overseer with the International Rescue Committee, and Sarah Smith, the IRC’s senior director of education, recently met with children and families taking part in IRC humanitarian programs in Cúcuta, Colombia.

A Venezuelan mother and her three children living on the street in Bogota, Colombia

Some 1.2 million Venezuelans have sought safety in Colombia.

Photo: Jess Wanless/IRC

In a February 4 opinion piece published in The Washington Post, they warn of an underreported aspect of the Venezuela crisis: an entire generation of children facing severe trauma.

Many [children] have been separated from their families and have missed months or years of school.

"They are hungry and scared," Kennedy and Smith write of these children. "They are often sick and malnourished. Many have been separated from their families and have missed months or years of school."

While Colombia has provided Venezuelan refugees access to its health care and education systems, they explain, it simply can’t cope with the vast numbers crossing the border.

A Venezuelan girl holds a plate of food in Cúcuta, Colombia.

Roughly half of Venezuelan children living in Colombia are not in school.

Photo: Andres Brenner/IRC

Education has the power to protect children and help them heal during a crisis, they say. But roughly half of Venezuelan children living in Colombia are not in school.  

Schools are often the only place where refugee children are safe and can have a sense of hope.

"[Children] can recover when offered a stable and secure environment. Schools are often the only place where refugee children are safe and can have a sense of hope."

Caroline Kennedy visits a playroom for refugee children

Caroline Kennedy visits an IRC center in Cúcuta, Colombia.

Photo: Andres Brenner/IRC

Only 2 percent of humanitarian assistance worldwide goes to education—in Colombia, the amount is less than 1 percent. That needs to change, say Kennedy and Smith.

Education is a lifeline, not a luxury.

"Education is a lifeline, not a luxury. We can’t continue to sacrifice generations of children while we wait for political solutions to intractable conflicts."

Read Caroline Kennedy and Sarah Smith’s opinion piece in The Washington Post: As Colombia welcomes fleeing Venezuelans, children bear the heaviest burden

Learn more

The International Rescue Committee is providing protection for women and children, access to health care, cash assistance and other critical aid to Venezuelans who are seeking safety in Colombia. We also support partners to provide lifesaving assistance to people in Venezuela whose lives have been shattered by violence and instability.