As Peru has become one of the main host countries for displaced Venezuelans, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) announced the launch of operations in the country.

More than 1 million Venezuelans have tried to settle in Peru since 2016. Becoming the host country with the second-largest population of displaced Venezuelans in South America, over the past years living conditions have turned more challenging as a consequence of factors related to the pandemic. The closure of Peruvian borders as a COVID-19 containment measure (which limited human mobility) and economic slowdown–that limited formal and informal work opportunities–have caused Venezuelans to struggle to afford basic needs like food and shelter. Staying healthy is another struggle, as many live in overcrowded, often substandard housing–and many more have no option but to live on the street. 

Marianne Menjivar, Director of the Venezuela Crisis Response at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said:

“Life continues to be extremely difficult for Venezuelans, even after arriving in neighboring countries. While Latin American countries like Peru have hosted a vast number—despite insufficient international funding and support—the national systems are overstretched and, in the case of Peru, Venezuelans face great barriers to cover their most urgent needs. 

“We call for the international community to allocate sufficient funding that allows for the development of a comprehensive response to the needs of Venezuelans in the places where they are. Without support from the international community, including donor countries and development banks, this crisis is at risk of becoming a forgotten crisis.”

Main needs of Venezuelans in Peru

The IRC conducted an assessment in Peru in late 2021 to identify the most critical needs of Venezuelans and inform the expansion of its response. The assessment was based on interviews with 900 Venezuelan families across the country, asking them to list their main needs. After these interviews, the IRC identified five main needs which, although similar to those previously diagnosed in Ecuador, varied in priority: 

  1. Money. Of the surveyed families, 71% mentioned financial support in their lists of needs. Although over half of all family members were reported to be contributing in some way to income, most commonly via informal (45%) and formal (35%) jobs, at least 1 in 5 families reported needing to use savings for their current expenses. The use of savings was related mainly to the affectations of COVID-19, as most of the money had been saved prior to the pandemic, either to send to their relatives or return to Venezuela. The average family income in the week before the interview was extremely low, at US $79, when the poverty line in Peru is at US $88–46% of surveyed Venezuelans were living below this line.
  2. Food. This need was included in the priorities of 58% of families. Although 8 in 10 people reported buying their food in cash, 1 in 4 declared resorting to coping strategies like begging; receiving humanitarian assistance; asking neighbors, friends or family; or going to a soup kitchen. The Reduced Coping Strategies Index (RCSI) is a standard global measure to help understand levels of food insecurity, based on families noting how frequently they engage in coping mechanisms–including limiting meal size or frequency. A score of 10 or above is considered “severe coping”, and for the families surveyed by IRC the score was 14. 
  3. Medicines. Despite general health care being the fifth most listed need, 38% of people mentioned medicines among the needs on their top of mind, rating it as the third most relevant need. 
  4. Safe working conditions. Listed by 34% of Venezuelans. According to focus groups, participants frequently mentioned issues related to labor extortion, including the lack of guarantees to receive payment, salary not corresponding to the hours worked or jobs with high risk of accidents, while not being able to access any type of insurance. 
  5. Health care. Included in the lists of 33% of people, as access to health services for Venezuelans in Peru is complex. While emergency services, attention to children under the age of five, as well as to pregnant women and mothers up to 42 days after giving birth are provided to those who can deliver some form of identification under the Integrated Health System, only those with a specific type of residency card can access the system for other needs. It is estimated that only 10% of Venezuelans in Peru meet this criterion. 

Additionally to the top 5 needs, Venezuelan families highlighted particular concerns related to protection, especially for children. The main risk was child labor (60%), followed by physical violence (39%) and sexual abuse (28%). Protection issues were also identified for women, mainly listing risks related to gender-based violence manifested as violent acts in public spaces, including street harassment, touching and strangers offering money to women who were performing any economic activity not associated with sex work.

A population-based response

Following an expansion to Ecuador, and once the main needs were identified, the IRC designed a strategy to bring its response to support Venezuelans holistically and timely in places where they need it most, now in Peru. Having launched operations in the beginning of 2022, and continuing to roll out during the year, the IRC’s response in Peru focuses on groups of people who are most at risk of morbidity and mortality, including pregnant and lactating women, girls, adolescent girls and boys, unaccompanied and separated children, the elderly, people living with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The response will be implemented in Tumbes, Piura and Lima, with three main lines of action:

More on the IRC’s response to the Venezuela crisis

The IRC is on the ground delivering a collective response to support Venezuelans holistically—and timely—where they need most: implementing programming with a mixed model of partnerships with local organizations and direct implementation in Colombia, Ecuador and now Peru, and providing support for vulnerable populations through local organizations in Venezuela. In 2020, the IRC provided assistance for more than 87,000 Venezuelans.