By John Waters
As the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela continues, more and more Venezuelans are fleeing their homes and travelling to other neighboring countries in search of a better life. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has released a statement which both details the scale of the problems in Venezuela and also praises the response of neighboring countries, particularly Colombia.
Venezuela’s crisis dates back to a collapse in oil prices in 2010, which severely damaged the country’s economy. Further economic problems have caused shortages of food and medicines.
3.7 million Venezuelans have fled the country
According to the statement, 3.7 million Venezuelans have fled to other countries such as Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. About 1.2 million are in Colombia. The border town of Cúcuta hosts 10,000 Venezuelan children and is already providing school places for 3,000 of them. But without further help, particularly in the field of healthcare, almost all of the estimated 370,000 child migrants in Colombia could be in grave danger. UNICEF estimates that it needs to raise $29 million to fully support all of those migrants who have arrived in Colombia. So far only $5.7 million has been raised.
“The very serious situation in Venezuela has left many parents with no other choice but to pursue educational opportunities for their children across the border. I saw hundreds of students cross Cúcuta in the first light of dawn, in the pouring rain, to go to school. This dedication to learning by parents and students is a lesson of commitment, perseverance and determination for all of us” said Paloma Escudero, UNICEF Communications Director, when she returned from a 4-day mission across the border with Colombia. She had much praise for the efforts of Colombia to help with the situation.
“At a time when anti-migrant sentiment is growing around the world, Colombia has generously kept its doors open to its Venezuelan neighbors. As more and more families take 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 allow generosity to diminish.”
UNICEF has already provided mobile health clinics, water sanitation facilities and psychological support for traumatized children within the region. More recently, pre-natal facilities and healthcare for newborn babies has become a priority. Paloma Escudero related accounts of expectant mothers crossing the Simon Bolivar Bridge between Colombia and Venezuela to receive help.
“I met a mother who has epilepsy and is eight months pregnant. She needed to come to Colombia to do prenatal visits and protect her health and her baby’s health. For most families, the decision to leave is only a measure of last resort.”