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Press Release

The IRC’s David Miliband in Colombia: Welcome is extraordinary but Venezuelan humanitarian needs remain acute, under-funded, pose regional challenge

Colombia has extended extraordinary welcome but services remain overstretched. More funding and long-term support are required to meet the growing needs in the country and region.

  • More than four million people have now left Venezuela, a third of them are in Colombia.
  • Colombia has shown extraordinary welcome to Venezuelans but services are now overstretched. Colombia’s humanitarian leadership must galvanize international financial support.
  • Investment in support today is needed to prevent problems in years to come.
  • The IRC has been working in Colombia since April 2018 and to date has supported more than 11,000 Venezuelans in the country.

As the world’s interest in Colombia is ignited by the new challenges to the peace process, the number of people who have left Venezuela continues to increase each day. The International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) President and CEO, David Miliband, visited Colombia to meet Venezuelan families and see the humanitarian response across the country.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the IRC, said: “Today’s news highlights the challenges that Colombia still faces in the wake of decades of civil war. Despite this, Colombia has shown great humanitarian leadership in its welcoming policies and by keeping its border open to Venezuelans who are leaving their country in search of a safer future for their families.

“The recently-announced plans to grant citizenship to the 24,000 babies born in the country to Venezuelan mothers is an example of this leadership. And while these children will grow up able to access health care, schooling and other vital services, these services are becoming overstretched.

“Colombia is now at a crossroads. The response is heading in the right direction but investment is needed to prevent derailment in the future. We know that untended humanitarian needs – above all shelter, health, education and employment – lead to increased levels of sexual violence, the loss of social cohesion, increased use of emergency health facilities, plus backlash from host populations. Colombia has been willing to open its doors and has the potential to provide important models for how urban-based migrant populations can become contributors to the economy in which they land. However, that requires mobilization of international support for enlightened and inclusive policies.

“A step-change in international funding is needed for both the humanitarian response on the ground and support for the Colombian government in maintaining and extending life-saving government services amidst this displacement crisis. This support must come from across the board including international financial institutions such as the World Bank and IDB (both of which are engaged in Colombia), UN agencies as well as donors including the US and Europe, and it must come soon. When compared to other countries around the world hosting similar number of displaced people, funding to Colombia is lagging far behind.

“Increased international support for Colombia can not only ensure that people receive the services they so desperately need such as a broader provision of health care, economic support and protection services. But it can also show other regional countries who are tightening policies toward Venezuelans, like Ecuador, that more welcoming policies will bring international economic and political support.

“This week I met people in Cucuta and Medellin who eloquently articulated why this investment must happen soon. At the IRC’s center in the border city of Cucuta I met women who had walked for hours from their homes in Venezuela in search of quality medical care. Many of the women were seeking antenatal care which they weren’t able to access in Venezuela, meaning their unborn babies are at risk. I also spoke to teenagers who told me that life in Colombia was difficult for them too, as they struggled to integrate, make friends and often worried about their family still in Venezuela. I spoke to women who were working around the clock in risky jobs for only two or three dollars to be able to feed their children, trying to keep them from sleeping on the streets.”

A third of all Venezuelans who have left the country are now in Colombia. In areas with large numbers of Venezuelans there are many classrooms that are oversubscribed, meaning that children cannot attend school, despite having the right to. Hospitals in Colombia only provide emergency healthcare to Venezuelans, which itself is difficult to access in some areas. Without a significant income, many families are struggling to pay for the day-to-day health care they need. Regular jobs are often difficult to secure for Venezuelans meaning that people are increasingly forced to undertake precarious and dangerous work. For women in particular, this makes them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

The IRC began working in Cucuta, Colombia in April 2018 and has since expanded to Medellin. To date the IRC has supported more than 11,000 Venezuelans in the country with services including health care for pregnant women and children under five, specialized services for women and children, as well as cash to enable people to buy what they need most.

Photographs of David Miliband in Colombia are available for use here.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.