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NEW YORK, 29 April 2019 – At least 327,000 children from Venezuela are living as migrants and refugees in Colombia. Without increased support, their health, education, protection and well-being will be in jeopardy, UNICEF said today.
The economic and political situation in Venezuela has caused an estimated 3.7 million Venezuelans to leave their homes for Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and other countries in the region. Some 1.2 million of them are in Colombia, often living in vulnerable host communities with already overstretched resources.
“At a time when anti-migrant sentiment is growing worldwide, Colombia has generously kept its doors open to its neighbors from Venezuela,” said Paloma Escudero, UNICEF Director of Communication who has just finished a four-day visit to Cucuta, on the Colombian side of the border with Venezuela. “As more families make the painful decision to leave their homes in Venezuela every day, it is time for the international community to step up its support and help meet their basic needs. We cannot let that generosity wear thin.”
At the Simon Bolivar bridge between Colombia and Venezuela, Escudero spoke to families making the trek every day to seek medical care, take their children to school, and bring food and other essential items to their families back home.
“I met a mother who has epilepsy and is eight months pregnant. She needed to come to Colombia to get her prenatal checkups and protect her health and the health of her baby,” Escudero said. “For most families, the decision to leave is only a measure of last resort.”
Visiting a UNICEF-supported health centre near the border, Escudero met with mothers and children who traveled for hours to get prenatal check-ups, have their children immunized or seek medical treatment – free of charge.
Colombia also offers free education to migrant children from Venezuela. More than 130,000 Venezuelan children are enrolled in schools across Colombia today, up from 30,000 in November last year. Nearly 10,000 of these students are in the border town of Cúcuta and close to 3,000 of them commute from Venezuela every day to go to school.
“The very serious situation in Venezuela has left many parents with no choice but to pursue education opportunities for their children across the border,” Escudero said. “I saw hundreds of students cross into Cúcuta at the crack of dawn, in pouring rain, to go to school. Such dedication to learning by parents and students alike is a lesson in commitment, perseverance and determination for all of us.”
UNICEF is working closely with other humanitarian agencies, national and local authorities, non-governmental organizations and communities in Colombia to provide migrant children as well as children in host communities with health, nutrition, education and protection. Actions so far include supporting mobile health teams, setting up child friendly spaces for psychosocial support and prevention of violence, providing safe drinking water and sanitation, promoting hygiene practices, setting up protective learning spaces, distributing school supplies, training teachers and offering nutritional support.
This year, UNICEF aims to:
- Help vaccinate more than 30,000 children;
- Provide water, sanitation and hygiene services in schools for 13,000 children;
- Provide 40,000 children with formal and informal learning opportunities;
- Reach 15,000 nursing mothers with micronutrients; and
- Reach 90,000 children and adolescents with actions to prevent and address violence, abuse and exploitation, including gender-based violence and the prevention of child recruitment.
UNICEF needs $29 million to support the basic nutrition, health, education, water, sanitation and hygiene and protection needs of families crossing into Colombia. The children’s agency has only received $5.7 million so far.