Migration: Ecuador Red Cross goes out on the streets to provide critical services for Venezuelan migrants — every step of the way
Cristia, Winston, Yender and Belkis are four very different people, from various walks of life. But they have one thing in common. They are all Venezuelans who have traveled thousands of kilometers first through Colombia, on their way south into Ecuador.
Their realities are very different, and their needs vary throughout their journey. At some points, they need information and a phone call; and at another point along the route, they seek medical attention, or someone to talk to who they can trust.
The movement of people from Venezuela to Ecuador is just one of the many routes that migrants cross throughout the Americas as they search for a better future. The IFRC network is present in 22 countries in the region, and is constantly assessing the needs of migrants to identify the best way to support those who need it most. As in many other places, along other migration routes, the Ecuador Red Cross endeavors to meet the migrants when they are most in need, wherever they are, to ensure they are safe and healthy, physically and emotionally.
1. Crossing borders to an unknown path
Walking with the help of two crutches, Cristia is followed by her husband Winston after crossing the Rumichaca border bridge that separates Colombia from Ecuador. Pregnant women, children, elderly or people who are injured or disabled like Cristia cross this border to an uncertain future, without knowing where they will sleep and eat along the way. It is estimated that nearly 475,000 Venezuelan migrants and refugees live in Ecuador.
On the way, they may face many risks: xenophobic harassment, hunger, the danger of climbing on and off of cargo trucks, spending nights in the street regardless of the weather, as well as sexual violence, robbery and extortion.
2.Information is critical
On the side of the road, Cristia waits next to the passing of noisy and fleeting tractors, while Winston looks for information on how to get to Peru. There, family members who took the same route months ago are waiting for them.
Cristia and Winston get much of the information they need through massive WhatsApp groups, administered by other people who have migrated before. When crossing from one country to another, the couple lost access to mobile data, the currency changed and they do not know how to continue their journey.
In response to these kinds of needs, the Ecuadorian Red Cross provides basic information and guidance to families; so they know where to receive support such as food kits, resting points and personal hygiene. They also share with them the location of the Mobile Health Units on the roads, where they can receive psychological first aid and primary medical assistance.
This service is possible thanks to the Programmatic Partnership between the IFRC network and the European Union, which provides strategic, flexible, long-term and predictable funding, so that National Societies that are part of this program can provide more efficient and effective humanitarian support.
3. Connected at every step
Those who still have a cell phone can keep in touch with their loved ones. But often times, phones and address books may be lost or stolen and they may have no way to call their relatives to inform them that they are still alive.
To address this problem, the Ecuadorian Red Cross offers the Restoring Family Links service, which allows migrants to communicate with people close to them to tell them how they are doing.
Red Cross volunteer Mateo Rios offers national and international calls, internet connection and access to social networks to 130 people per month.
“Restoring Family Links is very emotional.Some people carry a great uncertainty as they have not been in contact with their families for weeks, and carry the weight of the dangers they have experienced. This is how we volunteers work to maintain people's confidence, so that they can move forward”, says Mateo.
4. Recovering to move forward
While Cristia and Winston stop to receive more information, there are those who, like 19-year-old Yender, walk down the road with companions they met on the road. Here, Yender and his group wait their turn to enter the Mobile Health Unit, where around 40 people are attended every day.
“I have been cold, rejected and mistreated,” says Yender. “Food is not ensured on the route and in some places they don't even give us a glass of water, even though we are dehydrated. The food kit given to us by the Red Cross gives us strength, and soon when the doctor sees me, I want him to tell me how my health is''.
After receiving medical and psychological assistance, Yender and his friends recharge their energies, say goodbye to the humanitarian team and continue their journey south.
5. Settling in a new home, a new country
In addition to the transit cities and towns where people spend brief hours on their way to their final destination, there are places where people settle down and start a new life from scratch. Ibarra is one of those cities, surrounded by the Andean mountains.
Those who have just arrived do not have the means to buy food, basic goods or pay rent. There, the Ecuadorian Red Cross provides cash assistance and support to migrant and host population small businesses.
This is the case of Belkis Colmenares. She has been living in Ecuador for two years, left Venezuela three years ago and lives in a three-room apartment with twelve other people, seven of whom are children.
“Two months ago we found out about the help being offered,” says Belkis. “A girl from the Red Cross accompanied us to the ATM and they gave us the money with which I bought food, paid part of the rent and medicines for my husband, who suffers from a mobility disability. Even though the money is gone as soon as it arrives, I felt happy because it took a great weight off my shoulders.”
Nataliia Korniienko: Helping her fellow refugees cope with the stresses of conflict, migration and starting over
Nataliia Korniienko knows firsthand the psychological and emotional stresses of conflict, migration and living as a refugee. In 2022, she was a mental health and psychosocial field officer for the ICRC when conflict finally forced her and her daughter to leave for Poland. Now her experience as a psychologist, former Ukrainian Red Cross technical adviser and refugee is helping her provide services to other Ukrainian refugees throughout Europe as a mental health and psychsocial specialist for the IFRC.
Climate of migration: Climate crisis and conflict push more people to drought-stricken Djibouti
“Gargaar” is a local Somali word used in Djibouti to express community solidarity. Evident throughout the country, gargaar means communities are hospitable and welcoming, ready to host and help anyone they encounter.
With fighting and insecurity in neighbouring Ethiopia and Somalia, more people are coming into Djibouti and so gargaar is on full display in many communities across the country. But with the area also going through one of the worst series of successive droughts in history, it’s clear that much more must be done to meet the mounting needs of people hit by the combined impacts of conflict, migration and climate change.
Most travel more than 500 kilometres by foot, some continuing to the Gulf countries such as Yemen and Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea. The arduous and long journey, through harsh heat, across wild terrain and over rough seas, bears a heavy toll on men, women, and children. Many die along the way.
‘By God’s grace we have made it here,” says Fatouma, who came to Chekeyti, in southwestern Djibouti, from Ethiopia with her two young children. She is exhausted and her baby is restless from fatigue. They walked over 600 kilometres in unimaginable heat, through a landscape full of hyenas and snakes, and always in danger of harassment.
“I had no choice; life was unbearable because of the clashes in Afar-Somali region and the lack of food because of drought,” she explains. “I heard life is better and more peaceful in Djibouti. We walked for days. Some days the thirst was unbearable. My children came very close to death. Some of the people we were with did not make it.”
The community in Chekyeti welcomed them to settle and even use their water from a ‘barkaad’ (an underground water reservoir) nearby. When Djibouti Red Crescent in a recent assessment asked the community leader the most vulnerable households to receive cash distribution, they did not hesitate to also nominate the Ethiopian migrants living among them.
This shows how deep rooted gargaar is in Djibouti, despite the host communities being themselves stretched of resources such as food and water. Successive droughts in the last decade means that many Djiboutian pastoralists have lost their livestock and livelihoods and have found themselves internally displaced, impoverished and dependent on humanitarian assistance.
To ‘die trying’
The generosity of strangers therefore can be a critical lifeline and the Djibouti Red Crescent Society (DRCS) plays a critical role, reaching out to people at critical points in their journey when they are most vulnerable.
Young men, some not more than thirteen years old, undertake the journey unaware of the dangers ahead. Family members back in Ethiopia invest all their life savings so these young people can search for a better life. As a result, the migrants cannot bear to turn back and be seen as failures. They often say they would rather ‘die trying’.
The DRCS therefore has endeavored to bring services through mobile units that meet many of these young men, women and children out on the migration routes. Using only one vehicle, a driver and volunteers, the Red Crescent here has assisted more than 7,000 migrants within seven months through first aid, water, energy dry food, family links and psychosocial support.
These mobile units and humanitarian service points offered lifesaving interventions in both the northern and southern parts of Djibouti’s key migration route. Unfortunately, DRCS had to stop this operation due to lack of resources.
“The situation of drought-induced hunger is alarming,” says Amina Houssein, the secretary general of DRCS. “Unemployment and low levels of social protection, along with rising food prices and very low levels of food production means families are likely to go by with just a meal a day.”
“The incidences of floods, high heat, droughts, as well as the prevalence of diseases and shocks have hit rural communities the hardest,” Hussein adds. “Our priority actions have been lifesaving basic needs assistance through multipurpose cash assistance, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene for human and animal consumption.”
Through a Disaster Relief Emergency Fund, or DREF, allocation from IFRC in August, the DRCS has been able to deliver assistance to 45,000 people. But the needs are still enormous. Projections from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification indicate that around 285,000 people, representing 24 percent of the total Djibouti population, will be acutely food insecure, and around 100,000 people will be in emergency food insecurity, by the end of the year. More than 30,000 children under 5 years of age are also expected to face acute malnutrition this year.
Dire need of support
A small National Society of just 37 staff, five branches and some 1,000 volunteers, DRCS is committed to doing the most with its incredibly stretched resources. With availability of funds, DRCS would like to revive its Mobile Humanitarian Service Points assistance to migrants, including those who entered the country outside legal channels.
Such “irregular migrants”, as they are often called, face high vulnerability to economic exploitation by smugglers, abuse, physical and/or gender violence, potential for disease transmission, poor humanitarian conditions and loss of life.
But these are not the only challenges the National Society faces. Recent sudden floods, mostly in the highlands of neighbouring Ethiopia, has also displaced more Djiboutians and left some communities completely cut off.
“With the predicted El-Nino set to happen end of the year, we will need more help to mitigate the effects of flooding in this area,” says Mohamed Abass Houmed, governor of the Tadjourah region, which faces high risk of continued flooding. “Our biggest disadvantage is the poor shelter and road network especially in remote communities. In the event of a flood, some already vulnerable communities will be cut off”.
Surviving with cash support and charcoal
As part of its hunger crisis respone, the Djibouti Red Crescent distributed cash to a targeted 1,500 households. In one locality, they were able to do so through mobile money transfers. Meanwhile, families are doing whatever they can to survive. For most, the three rounds of cash distribution, which they used mostly for food and medicine, were not enough.
To adapt to the erratic weather patterns and make ends meet, most communities abandoned pastoralism and farming and resorted to charcoal burning. Cutting down of trees for charcoal, however, inadvertently worsens conditions and increasing their climate risk.
“Ask any community here in Djibouti what is their greatest need — you will get a resounding call for water,” says DRCS’s Houssein. “With the availability of funds, we at DRCS would additionally like to support communities through water rehabilitation projects, as well as tree planting as a mitigation measure for future climatic shocks.”
IFRC Secretary General Keynote speech at the 10th Pan African Conference in Nairobi
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, colleagues and friends,
I’m so pleased to be here in vibrant Nairobi.
You have always extended such warmth and enthusiasm every time I visit Africa.
Thank you for your unmatched hospitality.
I am grateful to Kenya Red Cross for hosting Pan African conference of the IFRC.
IFRC Vice President Elder Bolaji Akpan Anani, Chair of the PAC.
Governor Korir of the Kenya Red Cross.
Governing Board members,
Commission and Committee chairs of the IFRC, of the Standing Commission, Africa governance group,
Vice President of ICRC (continuing our proud history to invite ICRC to IFRC statutory meetings because we can be successful when we work together as a Movement),
National Society and youth leaders, staff and volunteers and the entire IFRC secretariat team. I want to particularly recognize the Africa team led by our Regional Director Mohammed Mukhier for working tirelessly to support the organization of the conference.
I pay tribute to all of you for your immense contributions to the IFRC network, today and always.
Your dedication to the communities we serve is unparalleled, especially through the recent growing complex crises across Africa. Let me join in solidarity with Morocco and Libya as they work hard to recover from two terrible disasters.
As we gather here today, I am struck by the rich tapestry of Africa’s history, cultures, and the extraordinary resilience and spirit of its people.
Yet, this comes with its own set of opportunities and challenges.
A continent of immense beauty and diversity, Africa presents us with a complex humanitarian landscape.
Africa is a place of paradoxes, where soaring aspirations uncomfortably co-exist with profound inequalities.
Humanitarian needs are growing each day, stretching the bounds of lives, livelihoods, and human dignity. Poverty, inequality, and political instability compound these humanitarian needs.
Economic challenges including high unemployment rates, limited industrialization, and a heavy reliance on primary commodities for export make many African nations vulnerable to fluctuations in global markets.
We continue to witness alarming hunger levels across the continent, with 167 million facing acute food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa, a 14% increase from 2022.
The impact of El Niño in 2023/2024, forecasts a 90% probability of flooding in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, alongside reduced rainfall in Southern Africa.
We know this will further exacerbate food insecurity in the coming years, as African food systems are very vulnerable to climate extremes and shifts in weather patterns.
Disease and epidemics are on the rise as a result.
Last year, 96 disease outbreaks were officially reported in 36 countries, with cholera, measles, and yellow fever being the most common.
As climate disasters worsen, 7.5 million people were displaced in Africa, the highest annual figure ever reported for the region.
And with the cascading effects of political instability in a number of countries, the number of people on the move have begun to climb as well, with 9 million people torn from their homes in 2022.
We cannot forget that behind these distressing statistics are actual people –women, men, and children with increasing needs and less resilience to cope.
These are the challenges that exist in a continent which is full of young and dynamic population full of unparalleled vibrancy and dynamism. It also has many beautiful tourist destinations.
This is a continent full of natural resources - minerals, oil and gas, timber, agricultural land, fisheries, renewable energy, gemstones, water resources, forestry products. Almost everything you can think of.
It makes me wonder how come a continent so full of resources is also facing so many challenges.
How can we contribute to addressing these humanitarian gaps?
Please allow me to share just three fundamental approaches that could help us to make a meaningful contribution to the people and communities in Africa.
First is Solidarity – Working together in partnerships:
We are bound together in our journey in search of a brighter future.
The expanding humanitarian needs push us to the brink, but our unwavering solidarity pulls us back and drives us forward.
Solidarity and commitment to our Strategy 2030 and Agenda for Renewal allows us to respond to multiple crises and disasters, build community resilience and strengthen localization in this region.
Just last month, I visited Gambia and Egypt to better understand the migration situation.
My conversations with volunteers, National Society and government leaders were eye opening.
When it comes to migration, Africa is a continent on the move.
This comes with positive benefits too—In Gambia migrants contribute to 20% of the country’s GDP.
To the rest of the world, the migration of Africans is often framed around their movement beyond Africa’s borders.
Yet the story of the millions of refugees and internally displaced people being hosted within Africa, which is more than 85%, is not acknowledged.
Through the IFRC’s Global Route-based Migration programme and humanitarian service points we witness how Africans are overwhelmingly supporting fellow Africans on the move.
Africans standing shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow Africans, is a testament to our capacity to overcome adversity.
As we address urgent crises before us, it's our combined strength that forms our bedrock of hope.
Internal solidarity sometimes can be challenging. Let us not doubt ourselves in our commitment to solidarity. Let us foster trust and belief among ourselves.
Second is Solutions to scale- think big, act big:
Across Africa much progress has been made and the vast opportunities lie ahead.
34 countries, representing approximately 72% of Africa’s population, have demonstrated significant progress in governance over the last two decades, especially in the areas of rule of law, the protection of rights, and growth of civil society.
Africa’s great untapped potential is more visible than ever, with economic growth and investment in public services contributing to the improvement of millions of lives and transformation of societies.
The theme of this 10th Pan African Conference is renewing investment in Africa. I suggest that we make this investment people centric. You may want to consider calling it "renewing people-centric investment in Africa".
I encourage every one of us to consider how investments in National Societies, and especially in their young volunteers, can harness Africa’s agility and innovation that empowers people to address the needs when they come and continue to work to reduce humanitarian needs by building long term resilience in the communities.
For this, our Agenda for Renewal guides the IFRC to work for and with National Societies in everything we do.
We have invested in scaling up digitalization, risk management, new funding models for greater agility, accountability, and impact to reach the communities.
We foster learning and strengthen National Society capacities, so that we become leaders in the humanitarian field, not just in response but in resilience building, data, influence, collaboration, and innovation.
In 2020-2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, African National Societies came together with the IFRC secretariat to reach 450 million people with humanitarian services.
The REACH initiative between Africa CDC, the African Union and the IFRC comes with an ambition to scale up the community health workforce by two million and strengthening National Society capacity across the continent to address health needs.
These are solutions that are tailored to African communities, that reflect African needs and that can be measured by the outcomes we achieve for the people.
Let’s not play small. Let’s think big, let’s act big. Because that’s what it is needed now.
Third is Leadership – listen, learn and lead.
Our humanitarian action must make a positive difference in people’s lives.
In this era of fast paced change and shifting political divides, our leadership has never been more crucial.
Leadership to partner with others along equal and mutually reinforcing terms,
Leadership to position our National Societies as unparalleled community partner, with unmatched local intelligence and reach,
Leadership to engage in internal transformation,
Leadership to embody our Fundamental Principles,
Leadership to invest in young people--Africa’s most abundant and greatest resource--harness their skills, give them opportunities to lead us to a more just and equitable future.
Leadership to build trust, internally and externally, to be bold at communicating good news as well as challenges, to bring about collective energy and hope.
Leadership that doesn’t accept business as usual.
Leadership that strives for excellence in everything we do.
There will be ups and downs, but we will persist. This is what leadership is all about.
In our pursuit of a brighter future for Africa, let us hold ourselves to lead with accountability, not just to the challenges of today but also to the aspirations of tomorrow.
Let every action we take, every initiative we launch, and every partnership we forge be a testament to our unwavering commitment to the people.
I wish you a very productive Pan-African Conference.
And please allow me to conclude by sharing a quote from Nelson Mandela – «one of the things I learned when I was negotiating that until I changed myself, I couldn’t change others».
Let this conference give us the inspiration to be the real agent of change for the people of Africa.
5 top tips on maintaining mental health from Red Cross first-responder volunteers
We all know that mental well-being is as important as physical health. But how often do we actively take care of our mental health? What can we do to support ourselves and others?
Why not ask some experts? People whose job is to take care of others during and after crises and emergencies.
We decided to ask volunteers from a Honduran Red Cross team that provides medical and mental health services to migrants at a mobile Humanitarian Service Point in Danlí, 92 km southeast of Tegucigalpa.
To do their job, they must take care of themselves. After all, how can you support others if you’re not processing your own emotions in a productive, healthy way?
Here are 5 tips they offered that can help everyone - even if you are not a volunteer - to take care of your mental health, anywhere, at any time:
1. A little help from close ones: Individual and team care.
In emotionally intense situations, it is important to rely on work teams, friends and family. You don't have to face it alone. Sharing experiences and reflecting together helps us deal with the emotional impact of daily work.
"In the team, we are always trying to fill ourselves with good energy and good attitude towards difficult situations. We always try to take care of ourselves physically, and above all to take care of our mental health.
Because we see many cases, aggressive people, without self-control. In childhood care, we can handle a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety, and we try to understand but also to take care of ourselves."
Honduran Red Cross
It is necessary to allow yourself to feel and validate all emotions in order to heal, even if they make you feel uncomfortable.
Engaging in self-care practices that involve physical activity and moments of relaxation, as well as resting and spending time in nature, or with people you love, can also help you through painful situations.
2. Someone to lean on: Seek professional support.
Access to information and psychosocial support resources can save lives. Despite the fact that close to one billion people in the world suffer from a mental disorder, stigma and social difficulties make it difficult to promptly seek help and mental health care.
"We rely on our own team, we reflect and share the experiences we have lived through, and that helps us to provide emotional support. But beyond that, there is also a team of mental health professionals that we can rely on."
Honduran Red Cross
Talking about your emotions is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. You may be struggling with what you feel is part of the human condition and there is no shame in doing so. You are just a person going through a difficult time and doing the best you can.
There will always be someone who understands what is happening to you.You can always ask for help.
3. I hear you: Practice active listening
Just as sharing your feelings is beneficial to your mental health. Listening to others in an attentive and respectful way, validating their experiences and emotions, can strengthen your relationships and bonds. It can also provide valuable emotional support, and even more so during crisis and emergencies.
"For me, this time I have being a volunteer has been very eye-opening. Gettingclose todifferent realities and learning what people live through along the migratory route, helped me grow as a mental health professional."
Honduran Red Cross
By practicing active listening, you develop empathy and open yourself to know realities different from your own.
When you see that someone is suffering and having a hard time, let's listen, validate, support and, if possible, accompany them to seek professional help.
4. Keep learning: Look for useful resources.
Training is a powerful tool for understanding and addressing mental health challenges and identifying symptoms and situations that can lead to stress and anxiety.
"In the Red Cross, I was trained from the basics. I learned what the Red Cross was, safety measures for field work, the meaning of our uniforms. I also received training in Psychological First Aid, Restoring Family Links and Protection, Gender and Inclusion.
"We know that in the field we need this knowledge to provide adequate care and to protect ourselves, which is part of the Red Cross training."
Honduran Red Cross
Don't miss the opportunity to strengthen your mental health knowledge and learn how to help yourself and people around you.
Visit our mental health page to find more resources.
5. Support others - support yourself: Volunteer service
By supporting others in times of crisis and emergencies, you not only provide support to those in need, you can also find meaning and satisfaction in your life.
"You see on the news what the people who pass through the Darien go through, they come with their complications, there are people who have even died on the way....
And to see the joy of the adults, when we take care of their children, when they have their medicines and the possibility of healing their wounds, is the most valuable thing. People always leave grateful, giving you blessings".
Honduran Red Cross
The advice and practices shared by Scarlet, Angel, Yaritza and Leonardo show that taking care of our mental health is essential to facing life's challenges and providing effective supportto those in need.
Access to mental health services must go hand-in-hand with actions that guarantee basic needs for all people, whoever they are and wherever they are.
There is no health without mental health.
| Press release
SOS MEDITERRANEE and IFRC alerts the Mediterranean deadly as ever as Pope Francis arrives in Marseille to commemorate lives lost at sea
Marseille, Friday, 22 September -Almost ten years after a devastating shipwreck off Lampedusa claimed the lives of more than 360 men, women and children on 3 October 2013, the central Mediterranean is as deadly as ever. During his current visit to Marseille, Pope Francis will once again alert the global public to the humanitarian crisis unfolding at Europe’s southern border by commemorating those missing at sea.
In a press conference onboard civil rescue ship Ocean Viking this morning, SOS MEDITERRANEE and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) attested to the heartbreaking situation for people trying to cross the Mediterranean in search of safety.
Jérôme, Deputy Search and Rescue Coordinator onboard Ocean Viking said:
“Last month, we witnessed firsthand the lack of resources to save lives in the central Mediterranean. We conducted the largest ever rescue operation on the Ocean Viking. In 36 hours of nonstop operations, we rescued 623 people. It was clear that there were more people at risk of losing their lives than we could assist. The work we do is vital, but we cannot do it alone.”
The humanitarian needs in the central Mediterranean have been exacerbated by the growing food insecurity in Africa, the conflicts and recent disasters that have struck Libya and other Northern African countries in recent weeks. With no alternative to seek safety, there is no reason to believe that people will stop attempting to cross the Mediterranean.
The main objective of search and rescue efforts is to bring people to safe places where they can access their rights. SOS MEDITERRANEE and the IFRC urge all States to prioritize sea rescue and to uphold maritime law and human rights along Europe’s southern sea border.
Xavier Castellanos, IFRC Under Secretary General for National Society Development and Operations Coordination said:
“IFRC cannot turn a blind eye. Across the globe, people on the move face significant risks to their lives, dignity, and rights. This is a humanitarian imperative that we all have an obligation to address and is why IFRC is responding both on land and at sea. Our humanitarian work aboard the Ocean Viking is a vital part of our mission of protection and alleviating human suffering.”
Sophie Beau, co-founder of SOS MEDITERRANEE and General Director of SOS MEDITERRANEE France said:
“The unfathomable death toll in the Mediterranean this year could have been prevented if the political will was there. Migration deterrence policies and obstruction of civil sea rescue have only led to more human suffering. As a prominent moral and global figure as well as European Head of State, Pope Francis will use his visit to Marseille to recall the moral imperative underlying the laws and conventions that apply at sea: no one in distress should be left to drown.Ten years after the shipwreck off Lampedusa, we urgently call for global sea rescue missions and for the recognition of the valuable support of humanitarian Search and Rescue organisations.”
Note to the editor
As of 2021, the IFRC has partnered with SOS MEDITERRANEE onboard the Ocean Viking. This partnership builds on the strength of both organizations: SOS MEDITERRANEE’s sea rescue expertise and IFRC’s longstanding experience in providing relief, protection and health-related assistance to people in need. Find out more here.
For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Press contact: Méryl Sotty
Media Manager – +33 6 11 74 10 11 [email protected]
Press contact: Edgar Zuniga
Europe Communications Delegate – +36 20 337 7221 [email protected]
From north to south: Honduran Red Cross accompanies thousands of migrants on their return home
Máximo and George are two brothers from Honduras who, faced with unemployment and a lack of opportunities, took the difficult decision to migrate northwards in search of a better future.
Their journey towards their dream life, however, did not go as planned.
"We were stranded, with no money, with nothing, but we kept walking. We had no money for the bus, nothing, but we decided to take the risk. On the way we were assaulted and we were extorted, we almost lost our lives. They pointed a gun at us and told us ‘you pay us, or else we’ll put you in a body bag'," explains George.
Stories like this are sadly all too common along the Central American migratory route. Violence from criminal gangs, rising unemployment and cost of living, among other reasons, are all encouraging people to migrate—not only from south to north, but also from north to south.
Honduras is a territory of origin, return and transit for migrants. Every day, hundreds of people, sometimes thousands, leave the country. Many others cross it on their way to North America, and many others return to the country when they encounter the same problems abroad that they were trying to flee at home.
From January to July 2023, more than 33,000 Honduran migrants like Maximo and George returned to their country, equivalent to almost 160 people per day.
"One of the reasons people return, according to the interviews we have conducted, is to be reunited with their families,” explains Nicol Palacios, Protection Assistant at the Centre for Attention to Returned Migrants (CAMR) in Omoa, north-west Honduras.
“The challenges they face on the migration route have a great influence: suffering violence, the long distances they have to walk, spending the night in the street, not having food or at least not the food they are used to in their country. Tiredness is also another reason why they stop; and if they feel dejected, they decide to turn themselves in to the authorities so that they can be returned to Honduras,” she adds.
From the Corinto border between Honduras and Guatemala, the Honduran Red Cross (HRC) transports migrants and returnees to the CAMR in Omoa, where they receive support from staff and volunteers from the Red Cross and National Migration Institute.
"This Centre gives returnees the opportunity to feel a warm embrace when they return to their country", says Mario Alberto Ávila, Director of the CAMR.
Meanwhile, further south in the small town of Belen, the Honduran Red Cross partners with the local government to run a care centre for unaccompanied migrant children and families returning home.
"All the cases in the centre are tough to listen to, all of them. People come in frustrated and upset because they did not achieve their objective of reaching their destination,” says Gabriela Oviedo from the Honduran Red Cross who runs the care centre.
“What has had the greatest impact on us is looking after babies who are only days or months old; children who don't even know how to speak. We welcome them at the centre and give them the loving treatment they deserve until we can hand them over to their waiting family members," she adds.
Saving lives and addressing the needs of migrants along the Central America migratory route is becoming increasingly urgent. The IFRC's priority in the region is to provide people on the move with quality assistance tailored to the specific needs of the most vulnerable groups—regardless of people’s migration status or the reasons why they’re on the move.
For Marilyn, a young mother from Honduras, it was losing her job due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then losing her home in floods caused by Hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2021 that pushed her to seek a better life elsewhere.
But being separated from her two children, who she left with her mother, was not easy. Marilyn attempted to head to North America several times, but never made it to her destination. During her migration attempts she experienced muggings, hunger, breaking her feet, and a boat capsizing.
"My dream is in about 5 years to have my own house. To set up my own business and for my children to be well, to put them to school. I want them to have better opportunities than I had", says Marilyn.
The IFRC network strives to provide assistance and protection to returnees like Marilyn, Máximo and George who are looking for a better future.
From July 2022 to May 2023, our emergency appeal addressing the migration crisis in Mexico and Central America has enabled the Honduran Red Cross to provide health services, psychosocial support, water and sanitation services, and cash assistance to more than 59,000 people.
As the number of people on the move through Central America continues to rise, the challenge is daunting.But we will continue to defend migrants’ rights and dignity and provide them with vital humanitarian services—whoever and wherever they are.
Learn more about the IFRC's work supporting people on the move.
Saving lives at sea: Ocean Viking ship completes its largest ever rescue in the Central Mediterranean
“I want people to understand that when someone makes this kind of journey it’s because they have no other choice.”
These are the words of Ahmed Bentalha, the IFRC Protection Team Leader on board the Ocean Viking rescue ship. Staffed by teams from SOS Méditerranée and IFRC, the ship patrols the Central Mediterranean – one of the most active and dangerous migration routes in the world – to rescue and support people who become stranded at sea.
Between 10-12 August, Ahmed and his fellow Ocean Viking crewmembers completed the ship’s largest ever rescue operation – saving 623 people from unsafe vessels within 36 hours and helping them safely disembark in Italy.
“The first rescue began at around 8:00am on Thursday 10 August. The second came the following evening at midnight, and after that it was rescue after rescue for the whole day. It was a very hard and intense 36 hours. We didn’t get to sleep at all,” explains Ahmed.
“None of the boats we responded to were seaworthy. The people on board were very distressed. They didn’t have life jackets and were packed into the boats with no space to move. Some boats had started taking on water and people were rushing to get it out.”
The rescues were carried out by SOS Méditerranée search and rescue teams using RHIBs (Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats) to bring survivors to the Ocean Viking.
“We got them all on board. There were people everywhere. Some had been at sea for a few hours, others for four to five days. We could see the difference in how tired they looked,” says Ahmed.
“Physically, most people weren’t in too bad a condition. But some were suffering from fuel burns which happen when fuel leaks from the engine and mixes with sea water, causing a chemical reaction which burns the skin.”
Once on board, IFRC teams provide different humanitarian services to those rescued. The medical team, which includes a doctor, nurse and midwife, attends to people’s health needs, while a logistics expert takes care of providing food and essential items.
The protection team, led by Ahmed, registers migrants on board the ship, completes age and family assessments and helps them get in contact with their families.
“Most people we rescued in this operation were from Sudan, but we also had people from Guinea, Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other countries. We had people of 26 different nationalities in total – mostly men and women, but also more than 100 children and ten small babies,” says Ahmed.
The protection team also talks to survivors about international protection and their rights. And for people needing specialist care, such as survivors of sexual violence or unaccompanied minors, Ahmed contacts authorities and other NGOs on land – in this case, in Italy – to arrange additional support once they disembark.
It’s been a trying summer so far for Ahmed and the Ocean Viking. Though winter is a more difficult season in terms of rough weather conditions, the sheer number of people needing support at sea this summer has tested crews to their limits.
And just last month, the crew’s lives were put in danger when the Libyan Coast Guard fired shots in close proximity to a rescue team – the third incident of its kind this year.
“They started shooting – both close to us and around the boat we were trying to assist. We were instructed to leave the scene despite being in international waters. I tried to communicate with them but they only responded by shooting, so we had to leave the area for our own safety. It was scary,” says Ahmed.
Despite the challenges and dangers that crews on-board the Ocean Viking face, Ahmed remains firmly committed to saving lives at sea.
“You reach a point where you feel that you can’t take it anymore. But then each time you hear the ‘ready to rescue’ call from the bridge, you get that rush of adrenaline that keeps you going.”
“The best moment is when we dock at a port of safety and can disembark people because that’s when we can say our rescue is done – that they finally made it to a safe place.”
“As people step onto dry land, they look into your eyes and thank you. Sometimes they hug you and cry. Some people told us ‘because of you, I didn’t die today’. It’s very emotional.”
“Being a humanitarian, seeing people in distress and needing help. That’s what keeps us going.”
The IFRC has been operating a Humanitarian Service Point onboard the Ocean Viking in partnership with SOS Mediterranée since July 2021. Together, we've rescued and provided humanitarian assistance to more than 4,000 people.
SOS Mediterranée focuses on the search and rescue side of the operation, while IFRC teams onboard provide humanitarian assistance (such as health and psychosocial support, food, water and information) to people rescued.
For more information:
Click here to read more about this work.
Learn about our Global Route-Based Migration Programme.
See more photos from this rescue operation.
Visit IFRC GO, our emergency operations data platform, to see real-time data about our Humanitarian Service Point at sea.
Cut off, holding on, and craving contact
“When you live as an undocumented migrant, one thing that keeps you alive is contact,” says Izzy, a migrant from Sierra Leone whose simple daily encounters with people going through similar struggles have been seriously diminished due to Covid-19. With the pandemic looming over everyone’s daily life,migrants such as Izzy face particular hardships. Cut off even from small jobs and activities,they are not eligible for social benefits that provide the stability needed to cope with a pandemic.
“Because these people are considered illegal, they cannot rent a house, they cannot work legally, they don’t have social security, they don’t have bank accounts,” says Joquebede Mesquita of the Company of Friends, which provides practical and legal assistance to undocumented migrants living in Netherlands. Some, she says, end up sleeping in the street, afraid of sharing a room with people who may be infected. “A lot of people want to go home to their parents,” she says. “They say, ‘If we are going to die, we want to die together’.”
These stories are a stark reminder: while COVID has been cruel for all of us, it has been catastrophic for migrants.Even in the most developed countries, migrants often don’t have access to critical Covid coping mechanismssuch as mental health care, safe housing(since they often share apartments) or working conditions(with proper hygiene protection measures), according to the IFRC reportLeast protected, most affected: Migrants and refugees facing extraordinary risks during the COVID-19 pandemic.On top of all that, they are even farther from loved ones and moreexposed tomedia disinformation in languages they may not fully master.
Still, there are many bright spots amid the challenges. Born in Brazil, Claudia has struggled to find unofficial jobs while taking care of her four-year-old daughter Maria. But she now has a steady job and Maria is enrolled in school, learning Dutch. “She plays with other children and has more contact with kids her own age,” Claudia says.
For Izzy, as well, the challenges he and other migrants face have only intensified his desire to something positive for others. “I’ve stayed here a long time and this country has supported me,” says Izzy, who likes to help out at a local shelter and food service for other undocumented migrants in need of a warm meal and a welcoming space. “So, I think I have to give something back.”
Claudia, from Minas Gerais, Brazil
Originally from the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, Claudia has been working as anundocumented migrant in The Netherlands for a year. “I feel bad because I am considered illegal here,” says Claudia. “But I have been able to find work here and I feel safer here. I can walk on the streets with my daughter. The quality of life I can give my daughter is better than in Brazil. So, I feel more secure than in Brazil, but less secure because I am illegal”.
As evening falls, Claudia and her daughter Maria take a break on a bench in Amsterdam. “Corona has made life difficultbecause so many things are closed,” she says. “There is nowhere to go and I have to spend a lot of time with Maria, sitting in the very small room that I rent.”
Children in Netherlands begin school soon after their fourth birthday. “I am very happy now that Maria has started school … I want to learn Dutch but Corona has made it more complicated because a lot of the schools are closed. And with Maria it was difficult to find time to study. And now that she is at school maybe I can learn Dutch at a school in the future.”
“Maria has a better life now,” says Claudia. “She plays with other children and has more contact with kids her own age. Maria is very happy.She talks about her new school all the time. She is learning Dutch. The school is very good compared to what we had in my neighbourhood in Brazil.”
“Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, it has been a terrible time,” says Joquebede Mesquita of the Company of Friends, which provides practical and legal assistance to undocumented migrants in The Netherlands. “The telephone is ringing all the time. They want to go back to Brazil. They want to go back to their family, to their children.We helped more than 200 people go back to Brazil. Their work has stopped and they don’t have money to pay the rent or to pay for food. A lot of people were sleeping on the street and they were very afraid. People get the Corona virus and some of them are living with up to nine people in a small room. How can they survive? And a lot of people want to go home to their parents. They say, ‘If we are going to die, we want to die together’.”
An undocumented migrant from Brazil signs up to receive asupermarket food voucherfrom the Company of Friends organisation in Amsterdam.The vouchers are provided by the The Netherlands Red Crossto help migrants who have fallen on hard times since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Because these people are considered illegal, they cannot rent a house, they cannot work legally, they don’t have social security, they don’t have bank accounts,” says Mesquita. “The idea is that they come here for a couple of years, get some money and then return to Brazil, buy a house and have a good life. But most of the people end up staying five or ten years, they don’t learn the language because they work and don’t have time to integrate into the community.”
In her kitchen at home, Claudia and a friend unpack somefood donated by the Netherlands Red Cross. “The Brazilian community here in Holland help each other a lot. And if you are a Brazilian woman with a child, they help you even more.”
Claudia and her daughter Maria look at a Christmas display in a shop window in Amsterdam. “I don’t know how we will celebrate Christmas. It’s a difficult time. I have to find a new place to live.Normally in Brazil we celebrate with family and friends. But here? I just have Maria”, she says. “My dream is to make some money and then return to Brazil and buy a house for my family. But if the chance came to stay here legally, I would consider it. But at the moment, the future is today. I take each day as it comes.”
Izzy, from Sierra Leone
After a decade-long civil war engulfed west African nation of Sierra Leone during the 1990s,Izzy felt he had no choice but to leave the country. The conflict took a high personal toll. “I lost my father, my brother, my sister and then later my mother disappeared,” he says. “I still have some uncles there but it’s difficult to know exactly where they are. I’ve been away a long time”. Although his application for asylum in the Netherlands has dragged on for over eleven years, he is confident he will be granted residency soonand he now considers Holland his home.
“I miss everything about Sierra Leone,” says Izzy. “The food. The weather. The people. Absolutely everything. But it would be very difficult for me to go back becausethe scars of the war are still there. I was born there. I grew up there and from time to time, you feel this nostalgic. You have to look at your health situation as well and if I went back I would feel overwhelmed to be in my country again. But at the same time, you have this fear of going back and bringing up all the memories again. It’s a difficult thing.”
“When you live here as an undocumented migrant,one thing that keeps you alive is contact. When you meet friends, that gives you the energy to do things every day when you wake up. But because of Covid, that has stopped.”
“Covid has affected me a lot. First, because I lost a few friends, people that I knew— both Dutch and foreigners – to the disease. But also, and I think more importantly, because of the situation where you have no contact with friends. Things are no longer the way they used to be. You don’t allow people to come and visit you any more. That’s one thing we lost.”
Izzy and his friend Kieta from Guinea buy some ingredients for the meal he will prepare for at theWorld House, a place where undocumented migrants can get a warm meal. “There are a lot of Africans in Amsterdam and many of them come to the World House,” says Izzy. “It is a place for refugees and, for most of them, it is their last hope when they have to leave the asylum camps. They have to go somewhere and usually the only place they can go is the World House. We feed them. We help them to find shelter and get back into the asylum application procedures.”
“By law I’m not allowed to work or go to university in Netherlands because I still don’t have a residency permit. But I do like to help out becauseI think I have to contribute to society as well. I sometimes cook food for people in the World House, a place where undocumented people can receive help, spend the night and get a plate of warm food.I also help out at the Red Cross sometimes, preparing food packages for undocumented people and people without income. I help at some churches as well, cooking and storytelling, teaching kickboxing, but because of Corona, most of the church activities have been suspended.”
“I am doing a course in website design. It is funded by an organisation that helps refugees. I have always had the idea of creating my own website, and maybe doing it for other people as well. So when this opportunity came, I decided to grab it and try to make something of it.I really would like to do something that will contribute to society herebecause I’ve stayed here a long time and this country has supported me, so I think I have to give something back.”
This story was produced and originally published by the Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine. To learn about the Magazine, and to read more stories like this,click here.
Migrating through the Americas: A father and son road trip
With his son Santiago always at his side, Juan arrived in Colombia in late October 2018 from Venezuela and immediately began looking for any kind of menial task to survive. After the searing heat of the Cucuta border town, the pair would walk miles of dizzyingly zigzagging roads, through the cold, rainy town of Pamplona, along sheer mountain passes and lush green valleys before luckily being given a ride across the freezing Paramo de Berlin – the most challenging section of the road to Bucaramanga.
Juan tells us: “Back in Valencia, I was a bus driver but, in the end, what I was making just wasn’t enough. I didn’t own the bus and when it broke down, it sometimes took a week or more to get repaired as there is a scarcity of parts. During that time, I wouldn’t be paid, and those periods became progressively longer.”
“We arrived in Colombia on October 31st, my birthday. Santiago had fever and we were not in a good way. I never thought I would ever walk so much.I picked up aluminium cans on the streets of Cucuta to sell for recycling for a few days to get some money, and I had to bring Santiago along with me as there was nowhere else to put him. With this money I managed to rent a room sharing with three other people.”
“We were travelling in a group for safety, but it’s also difficult– people have different speeds and sometimes not everyone gets a ride which splits up the group. It’s hard to stay together. Luckily, we got a ride across the Paramo. I heard that people die up there from the cold.
“One friend saw me carrying Santiago and offered to help me with my suitcase. But then I got a ride and he didn’t so now he has my bag with our clothes and the most valuable thing – my passport.”
“At one point, a truck pulled up and the driver said only women and children, so I handed Santiago to a woman and we met up later. Later I became a bit nervous. You hear rumours about children getting kidnapped here, but in the end he was safe. He asks for his mother a lot, who he hasn’t seen in two months.”
“Back in Venezuela I was working from early in the morning until late at night, so I didn’t see much of my son. Now, despite these adverse conditions, I’m still happy we can spend some time together. For Santiago it’s a big adventure, he even started to learn how to ask for rides on the road. He was my reason for leaving, and mymotivation to continue.”
A new nightmare for African migrants with an American dream
Aisha sits in front of a drab green tent in a camp set up for migrants near the Costa Rican border with Nicaragua. It is the rainy season, just as it would be 9,200 kilometers away inAisha’s home in West Africa. Her journey has been full of tragedy, even before the moment two-years ago, when she decided out of sheer panic to flee her country. She’s passed through Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and now here to this little outpost.
Smugglers, drug traffickers, seemingly impassible jungles –the journey would be hard enough under normal circumstances. Add to that the coronavirus.Migrants like Aisha travel through some of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic – Colombia, Brazil, Panama and Mexico among others – in order to reach the US, which has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the world.
But thebiggest impact of Covid-19 on the lives of migrants has been their ability to move at all. They can no longer transit through government checkpoints. In critical passage areas, migrants are told to stay put until the crisis passes. In Panama, they generally congregate informally in small towns, while in Costa Rica, they often live in government provided temporary shelters where groups such as theRed Crossprovide services. Those who choose to avoid official checkpoints and shelters run the risk of even more abuse.
In places like these, the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations make an effort to keep people in the present. There are multiple activities: volleyball, football, calls to home, as well ascritical services such as food and hygiene kits, psychological support and health and hygiene promotion.
In the absence of movement, memory takes over. Aisha thinks of home. It is the place where, until only a month or so before she fled, she had no plans beyond her work as a sociologist, her relationship with her husband in the military and raising her daughter. Now she is so afraid of what might happen to her if she returns to her country, she asks that her real name not be revealed.
A summer of fear
In the summer of 2018, Aisha’s husband told her that he was fed up with his military life. One day he was sent on a mission, but his unit deserted instead. “They knew that by refusing an order, they were running the risk of being killed,” Aisha says.
The husband (Aisha asked that his name be withheld for his safety) calculated that he would be arrested at the airport if he tried to flee by air. And so, in September 2018, he reached out to the smugglers’ networks and left on a one-month journeyby boat to Colombia.
Men came to visit Aisha with increasing frequency. She didn’t know the visitors who said they were her husband’s “friends,” enquiring as to his whereabouts. “I understood that they were military personnel in civilian clothes,” she says. “I feared for my life and my daughter’s life.”
The plan was to go to Brazil with her 2-year-old daughter Leila and then move onwards to Colombia to meet her husband. “In my country, the Brazilian visa is the fastest you can get,” she said. “My request was easily granted. Since I am a sociologist, I told the authorities that I was going to Brazil to deepen my knowledge of Brazilian culture.”
An American dream
United Nations officials say that Europe’s crackdown on migrant crossing through its borders, along with reports of enslavement in Libya, left smugglers searching for other routes into the West’s most developed countries. Since 2015,smuggling networks outside of the Americasbegan to explore the long and extremely dangerous route through Latin America to the US and Canada.
For many African migrants, that means they first have to cross an ocean. Samuel, 45, is a barber from Northern Nigeria who had a dream to cut hair in America. He was willing to pay any price, even tempt death in order to live his dream.
In 2016, he made his way from Lake Chad to the Nigerian coast where he was smuggled aboard a ship bound for Colombia. When he boarded, the smuggler told him that he had a50 percent chance of survival. During the three-month journey he found himself alternatively seasick and starving. That was until the captain of the ship found Samuel in the hold and threatened to throw him into the ocean. It took a concerted intervention by several crewmembers to save his life.
After he landed in Colombia, Samuel (he has asked that his full name not be used) had to confront smugglers, drug traffickers, seemingly impassible jungles – the journey was hard enough until he got to the U.S. border. There, he was apprehended and placed in detention for seven months before being deported back to Nigeria.
But Samuel’s dream was not extinguished. By 2019, after saving up enough moneyto make the journey again, he was back in Latin America, attempting to make his way northward. Forced by circumstance to remain in Costa Rica, Samuel began again to re-dream his existence. He remembered a talk he had with a border official four years earlier in Costa Rica. “All migrants dream of the United States,” the immigration agent said. “Why can’t you stay in Costa Rica and live your American dream here?”
Migration in pandemic
Meanwhile, other groups of migrants,predominately from Haiti and Cuba also attempt to move upward through Latin America to the U.S.The journey is remarkably long. There are often children born during the crossing and so the infants generally take on the citizenship of their place of birth. Chilean, Ecuadorian, Panamanian and Costa Rican infants move along the famished road with their families.
Red Cross officials in Central America go to great pains to teach migrants about Covid-19 – the importance of social distancing, hygiene and wearing masks among other things.
“Imagine a migrant who does not have the opportunity to isolate, maintain social distance, earn income to buy food, or have resources to buy masks, disinfectant gel or have running water,” says Jono Anzalone, head of disaster and crisis response for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “How can a migrant protect herself in the middle of this pandemic? “
Moreover, it is a real challenge to get people,whose entire future is predicated on movement from one country to anotherto accept the dangers of coronavirus.
“They don’t believe that Covid-19 exists,” says Jose Felix Rodriguez, the migration regional coordinator for the IFRC. “They are frustrated because they can’t continue north.”
Underlying drivers of migration still strong
Many believe that Covid-related quarantines and border closures have dramatically slowed the flow of migrants. But they doubt that it has stopped it altogether.Migration flows have continued despite the pandemic. The underlying conditions that have driven people to migrate are still present. “The pandemic has not deterred them,” says Anzalone.
The closure of borders has increased the vulnerabilities of migrants transiting through Central Americaas controls became more rigorous and many were forced to stay in shelters that were unprepared for large groups staying for long periods of time.
Crowding in these shelters, combined with the lack of permanent access to clean water, masks or other protective equipment, as well as the lack of food or other resources, have put many people throughout the region in a very critical situation.
Perhaps the most treacherous part of their journey, however, is through theDarien Gap– a jungled portion of land separating Colombia from Central America.
Those seeking a way northward through Darien travel in groups of about 400 people. Aisha said that each person pays between 20 and 40 dollars for the journey. In the forest, if you can’t walk, you are left behind. In a short period of time, the large group separates into smaller ones of about 100 people – the fastest to the stragglers. “We’ve seen people abandon their families there,” says Aisha. “In the forest, you don’t wait and there are no friends. Everyone is trying to save their lives.”
The perils of the Darien Gap
Inside the Darien, Aisha and her family met a couple from Guinea. The woman was 6-months pregnant. The pair had been left behind by their group. She had vomited blood and lost her child. When Aisha found her, the couple had already spent some six or seven days in the forest alone. “We tried to give them biscuits to eat. But the woman had her feet and face swollen, she couldn’t eat,” Aisha says. The couple made it through the jungle but just barely.
On the fourth day, Aisha saw – with her own eyes – vultures descending into a river. In the water, there was a corpse of a man with black-and-white shoes. “The vultures began to tear the body into pieces.”
To be sure,while the journeys are perilous they are also journeys of hope. If they could cross the myriad borders of South and Central America and make it to the US, Aisha and her family could settle with her uncle who lives in Colorado. “My goal was to get to my uncle’s house in the US and start a new life so that I could continue studying my career as a sociologist,” she says.
“What gives me hope is the life I have right now,” she says. “I have survived in Peru, Ecuador, and the deadly forest so far. If I have survived all this, I know I can make my dream come true by the grace of God.”
This story was produced and originally published by the Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine. To learn about the Magazine, and to read more stories like this,click here.
Migration in the Americas: The journey from Cucuta
For decades, the border town of Cucuta was a departure point for people escaping Colombia’s instability towards a new life in their eastern neighbour. Now the situation has reversed and each month over 50,000 migrants cross the border from Venezuela to Colombia, many carrying their last possessions on their back.
With no money even for a bus ticket most are forced to embark on a perilous high-altitude trek on foot for days through twisting mountain passes, sleeping under the stars in bitterly cold temperatures before reaching the city of Bucamaranga. Here are their stories.
Safety in numbers
Eighteen year-old Yusmil arrived in Colombia with her brother, and the two joined a larger group on the road for security. As a young female, Yusmil is usually chosen to seek a ride in a car or truck and take the group’s luggage further up the route while the rest of them walk, though without a phone between them, communication is difficult. Yusmil sheepishly explains that she has already spent the last of her money, the $10 she got from selling most of her hair to a barber in Cucuta. With the little she has left, she has made into a braid.
“I sold my phone back in Venezuela just before I left, which gave me money for a day or two and when I arrived in Colombia, I sold my hair. The hair cutters gave me 30,000 Pesos ($9) and I have spent it already on rent and food.” she continues: “We don’t know where we’ll sleep tonight, we’ll keep on walking until we can’t walk any more.”
“I met Jose and the others at the Divina Providencia shelter in Cucuta and thought it would be a good idea to stick together when travelling. I’m a bit worried because I heard some gangs assault migrants on the road, and I’m not looking forward to the cold weather of the mountains. We don’t have the right type of clothes.
We left Cucuta in a group of about twenty-five and tried to help each other out as people fell behind. In the evening, we found a kiosk where a woman gave us some cookies and water to keep us going. We walked for an hour more until we found an improvised shelter and the next morning we got up and just started walking again.”
Weaving their way in a new land
By the toll booth on the main highway stretching out of Cucuta, the sunlight glints off the yellow and green handbags dangling from the neck and arms of Jesus and Gabriela Campos. But these are no ordinary handbags. Rather than being made of leather, the raw material for these colourful and sturdy apparel is the currency from their native Venezuela.
Due to hyperinflation and government devaluations, the small amount of money that Jesus and Gabriela brought to Colombia could not buy anything, so they decided to convert it into a tradeable product.
The bags are composed of folded, interlinking rectangles (with denominations ranging from 1,000 to 100,000), all intricately woven by the artisan couple from the coastal city of Valencia. “We take the old bills and turn them into bags, wallets, chequebook holders and purses,” Gabriela explains over the rumble of passing cars and trucks. The Campos’ sell in different areas of town but the toll stop, with the nearby hot dog grill and roaming coffee vendors, attracts a ready supply of cars.
“Eight hundred bills make up one bag, which can almost buy you a sweet back home. Two years ago, you could do something with this money but now it’s not possible.”
Gabriela has a sick father in the Cucuta hospital, which sometimes takes her away from her day job, but she says that her young children are also learning the family trade from their small home in Villa del Rosario. At the moment it takes a whole day for them to make one bag.
A car slows down as a potential customer peers out of his window. Gabriela walks over holding the bags aloft so Jesus continues with his part of the story.
“When I arrived here, I was sellingarroz con leche(a traditional rice pudding) that would pay our rent of 20,000COP ($6) per day. Venezuelans wanted to pay me with our currency, one time someone even they gave me 90,000 Bolivares in denominations of 1,000, so I had a lot. I thought that these were going to be worthless shortly, so I might as well try to do something productive with them.”
“Back home I used to make ornaments with cigarette packs and paper from magazines and I thought if I can do it with those things, I can do it with the bills,” Jesus adds. “My first customers were some guys doing a charity bike ride, who bought two bags and ordered some more. We can tailor make [these products] depending on what size and style you want. Yesterday I woke up at six in the morning to come to sell the bags at the toll and didn’t finish until late at night.”
A medical migration
For five-year-old Samuel Garcia, growing up in Le Tigre, eastern Venezuela wasn’t easy, particularly because he suffers from West Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. At first, Samuel’s mother Emily took him each month to the Colombian Red Cross’ health centre in Cucuta for medicine and later for appointments with a paediatrician. Now, Emily is on the road to Medellin where a foundation is offering specialized support.
“When Samuel was one year old, he had a lack of oxygen supply to the brain, creating a lesion which led to this condition.” Emily says: “He can’t control his sphincter, and specialist diapers are not available in the country, so Samuel wasn’t accepted into school due to the complexity of his condition.”
Scampering around the shelter wearing a Spiderman t-shirt on a warm November afternoon, Samuel seems oblivious that he is in the middle of a lifechanging journey. But Emily explains that their decision to leave became urgent.
“As well as autism and problems with movement, he has convulsions and goes into shock. If the convulsions are not treated, they can leave him a vegetative state.”
Women sit in a circle in the courtyard as a nurse is splayed on the ground to demonstrate first aid techniques. Suddenly a man is carried through the front door in the middle of a violent seizure and the staff flock to his side.
Despite an impressive crowdfunding campaign by Emily (Samuel has an Instagram account) to raise money to import medication from Spain and the United States, this ultimately wasn’t sustainable so the two fled.
Emily says she’s been advised that she claim asylum in Colombia on medical grounds.
“We have passports but not residency in Colombia, so I want to regularise our status so Samuel can get into special school and get access to specialised healthcare. I was a chef back in Venezuela, but I can’t work legally while applying for asylum.”
The doctor across the border
Near the Colombian Red Cross health station in Cucuta, a constant flow of people passes over the Simon Bolivar bridge from Venezuela into Colombia. But not everybody plans to stay in Colombia.
Bianca Rodrigues’ son Alejandro is the last patient of the day to be checked by exhausted doctors and, after that, the family will make the hours-long journey back to their hometown of San Cristobal, Venezuela. Every week, Bianca takes her children over the border to receive healthcare and medicine that is unavailable back home.
“My son Alejandro is just ten months old and today he has a fever. He suffersconstantly from allergies that block his bronchi and that leads to respiratory infections. When he was two and half months old, I first brought him to Cucuta and he was hospitalised for 15 days.
I live in San Cristobal, just over the border in Venezuela but there are no paediatricians in my town, so I need to travel to Colombia every week. It’s a hopeless situation – there are no antibiotics, and a shortage of doctors to the point that they only attend emergencies. It’s only 40km away but the transport is very unreliable, and it takes a long time to cross the Colombian border as the police check everybody’s suitcases.
It’s my dream to move here but I don’t have any place to stay and day care is expensive. I also have two other children aged 5 and 3. At least in San Cristobal I have my mother who can sometimes take care of Alejandro and the kids while I work. I sometimes come to Cucuta to work as a street vendor selling cookies and that allowed me to save up a bit of money. But since Alejandro got sick that has become more difficult.”
“I never thought I would be in this kind of situation”
Behind Bogota’s main bus terminal, an informal tented settlement in the woods has spilled over into the nearby roads. Here, Brihan and his family have made their temporary home. Hundreds of migrants have constructed improvised shelters from scavenged materials and line them precariously alongside the roadside. The encampments are divided by train tracks so, occassionaly, a one-carriage locomotive chugs through interrupting people gathered around around small campfires.
“I’ve been here for five days with my family, but I don’t know if I want to stay in Bogota. I’m not sure what to do next. I heard Ecuador might be good but if I find work here, I’ll stay.
Back home I worked as gardener and cleaned swimming pools. I have three kids aged 8, 3 and eight months and we are giving them a few days to recover after the journey. It took us five days from the border. We only saw one shelter on the way but sometimes Colombians in their cars gave us a ride and handed out food.
My son has a fever. When we arrived in Bogota, we went to the hospital and they gave him an injection to boost his defences but in general, they only give emergency treatment for free, and the follow ups cost money. I came here with 2000 pesos (75c) so I can’t afford that.
I never thought I would be in this kind of situation and my children would have to see this, but there’s no other alternative. I heard that Ecuador offers free day-care, so we can leave the kids somewhere while we work, and maybe there is a better chance of access to healthcare.
I built this shelter last night with the materials our neighbours gave to us. Before that we slept next to the wall with a bit of tarpaulin. This is not a good environment for kids, there are rats here, people here fight all the time and some use drugs. I hope I can get better connected somehow and get a construction job and get them out of here.”
Luimer and Itza spent months pounding the streets for work and accommodation to set themselves up in Bucamaranga before they went back home to bring their two sons. Luimer is now teaching music at a church and Itza a domestic worker for a Colombian lady. After participating in the census, they have their residency papers, are in the process of enrolling their sons in school and hoping to gain nationality through Itza’s Colombian mother. Her experience reflects the overlapping patterns of migration in the region – Itza’s grandmother went to Venezuela decades ago to flee instability, and now her granddaughter is making the return journey.
LUIMER: "We are from San Cristobal, Venezuela, near the Colombian border. In my previous life I was a music teacher with 160 students. But then the economy took a downturn.
There wasn’t as much work as I was promised so when we arrived, we had to hit the streets, selling chocolates, washing cars, doing construction etc. I have done lots of things I never thought I would do. I could barely use a hammer before. Now I have a job at the Free Life Church teaching keyboards, drums and guitar.
In the beginning we were living in a room only about a metre wide. Now I feel that this is our family home, we decorated and set ourselves up, and we have a dog."
Every week the local Red Cross organises a social gathering for migrants. A lot of Venezuelans go into their own survival mode when they arrive and don’t always interact with each other so it’s nice to meet up to share stories and make friends.
ITSA:"I used to work at a café, on the minimum wage. Then, two years ago, this became not enough to survive.
A lot of people have left. My father is in Peru. My brother-in-law and sister are in Chile; friends in Ecuador, cousin in Panama…but my mother and sister are back in San Cristobal [Venezuela] and we left the kids with them while we set ourselves up here, which required a lot of strong will.
We like it here because it’s close enough for us to visit our family once in a while. My father has said that he can arrange some work in Peru, but I don’t know if I want to go through the process of moving again."
This story was produced and originally published by the Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine. To learn about the Magazine, and to read more stories like this,click here.
From Sierra Leone to the Darien: migrants cross continents for a better future
Francis Icabba left his home country ofSierra Leone, West Africa, in search of security and new opportunities. Little did he know back then that he would end up crossing entire continents and one of the most dangerous migration routes in the world to find a better life.
His first stop was neighbouring Guinea, after which he crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil. There, he found it difficult to settle in due to the language barrier, so he decided to continue his journey and head north.
It took Francistwo months from the time he left Brazilto reach the Darien Gap: thethick, dense, and notoriously dangerousjungle separating Colombia from Panama.
Once there, he embarked upon a six-day trek, prepared with cans of sardines, a small gas stove and some instant noodles to see him through.
He was accompaniedby two pregnant women, on a journey he describes as ''one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do in my life”.
They walked for twelve hours each day without food, as his supplies quickly ran out. The extreme humidity, suffocating heat and constant crossing of rivers and streams forced them to abandon their suitcases along the way.
''The pregnant women we were with had given up. On the way we avoided snakes, rushing rivers and dangerously steep mountains. Everything is green. You have no sense ofdirection and no mobile signal. You just walk and walk. All the people there takethe risk for a better life, but it is a road where hope is lost. I wouldn't advise anyone to go through the Darien Gap.''
The Darien Gap is one of the most dangerous migration routes in the world. Sadly, it is not uncommon for people to die on the route due to the treacherous environmental conditions.There is also a highrisk of violence, sexual abuse, human trafficking and extortion by criminal gangs.
Despite this, it is estimated that more than 400,000 people will cross the Darien by the end of 2023, based on current trends.
People ofmore than 50 different nationalities have been recorded travelling through the Darien. The majority are from Venezuela, Haiti and Ecuador, but some come from as far away as India, Somalia, Cameroon and Sierra Leone.
People like Francis who make it through the Darien often arrive in very fragile physical and mental states. To help them recover, the Panamanian Red Cross runs reception centres where they providefirst aid and essentials such as food, safe water, hygiene kits and clothes.
''Arriving in Panama was one of the happiest moments of my life, it is very hard because I had to fight for it. The Red Cross was the first to help us and for me it was a blessing. In pursuit of our dream for a better life, we lost everything. So three meals a day, soap, a towel, a bath, being able to talk to someone or be cared for, that means everything.''
Red Cross volunteersalso offer psychosocial support, as well as maternal and child health services to those who need them. And they can provide Restoring Family Links (RFL) services and WiFi, so migrants can let their families know where they are and that they are safe.
For most migrants, the Darien isn’t the end of their journey, but rather the start of a 5,470 kilometre journey northwards through sixcountries in Central and North America.
But no matter who they are, or where they come from, people on the move in this regionare not alone: they can continue to access similar support from Red Cross Societies, in the form of Humanitarian Service Points, every step of the way.
Nearly 60,000 migrants like Francis received humanitarian assistance and protection from the IFRC network in 2022 thanks to ourProgrammatic Partnership with the European Union.
Implemented by 24 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world, including in Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Ecuador in the Americas, the Partnership helps communities to reduce their risks and be better prepared for disasters and health emergencies. This includes protecting the safety, dignity and rights of people on the move.
More photos on this topic are available to view and download here.
Darien new record: As migration increases, so must support
According to data from Panama's National Migration Service, 127,168 migrants crossed Darien National Park between January and April 2023, equivalent to more than 1,000 people per day.
In response to this announcement,Verónica Martínez, head of the IFRC's humanitarian response in Darien, said:
"The number of migrants arriving in Panama via Darien is growing exponentially. In the last few weeks, we have seen between 2,000 to 3,000 people arriving per day, a figure which is overwhelming the Humanitarian Service Points through which the Red Cross provides assistance."
"The majority arrive in a devastating and inhumane condition. They are injured, dehydrated, with severe allergic reactions, and complications from pregnancies or chronic illnesses. Many have been victims of abuse and violence. The Red Cross provides them with first aid, basic healthcare, and access to water. They also provide information, internet connectivity, and referrals to specialized institutions."
"But these record numbers also strain the basic services in the communities that host the migrant people after their journey through the jungle. In Bajo Chiquito, the number of walkers is sometimes five times greater than the number of local inhabitants, which leads to the collapse of water supply, for example. The water treatment plants installed by the Red Cross there are insufficient."
"Despite all efforts to meet the growing needs, the aid in Darien is becoming insufficient. Migrants, local communities, and humanitarian agencies all need humanitarian assistance to grow exponentially. We need sustained help over time that can adapt to changes in the context and is aimed at saving lives and protecting dignity, like the one provided by the Red Cross thanks to humanitarian aid funding and the continuous support of the European Union, Spanish Cooperation, and other actors*."
"The region is on the brink of a new rainy and hurricane season, which makes it even more urgent for support to arrive as soon as possible. From June to November, the risks faced by migrants on the migration route from Panama to Mexico will also include river floods and storms. The IFRC and the Red Cross network are preparing to face this scenario, but as they warned last March, we need allies. Providing humanitarian assistance remains urgent and is a team effort."
In August 2022, the IFRC launched an Emergency Appealrequesting international support of 18 million Swiss francs (USD 20.3 million) to provide humanitarian assistance to 210,000 people along the migration routes of Central America and Mexico. However, the amount raised so far is around five percent of the total requested.
Click here to access rights-free B-roll and photos from this crisis on the IFRC Newsroom.
*Contributors include the British Red Cross, Swedish Red Cross, Canadian Red Cross, Japanese Red Cross, Monaco Red Cross, Dutch Red Cross, Swiss Red Cross, Simón Bolivar Foundation, and UNICEF.
Honduran Red Cross: Kindness shines bright in local communities
It’s 8am on a peaceful Sunday morning in Copán Ruinas, a small, picturesque town in western Honduras that was formerly one of the most powerful cities in the Mayan empire.
Shopkeepers are starting to open their doors. A scattering of women and children play in the main square. And many locals – wearing their signature wide-brimmed hats – are heading out on their morning walks.
But one man stands out in his bright red vest and cap. A large Red Cross emblem and the words Cruz Roja Hondureña proudly emblazoned on the back. I watch for a moment as he chats to people in the village, who all seem to greet him warmly with a handshake or fist bump.
I catch up to him, say a friendly “¡Hola, amigo!” and learn his name is Stanley. A Red Cross volunteer for more than 22 years, he’s on his way to a meeting with fellow volunteers and staff from around their region. He invites me to visit the local branch later that afternoon to learn about what they do.
And so I did! And the welcome couldn’t have been warmer.
Over lunch, I learned that everyone had come together from across the region to share their stories, knowledge, and experiences of supporting their local communities through various crises and day-to-day challenges.
Let me tell you about three of the people I met: Mirian, Napoleón and Loany.
Mirian is the proud President of the Copán branch and has been volunteering for more than 10 years. Her branch runs the only two ambulances in the whole town, meaning that when someone gets into trouble, it’s her team that answers the call.
She oversees far more than emergency health services, though. Her branch does a lot of work helping local people, including indigenous groups living in the surrounding hills and schoolchildren, to be prepared for crises – such as hurricanes and floods.
Her branch is also supporting the growing number of migrants passing through Honduras on their way northwards, including, amongst other things, through Humanitarian Service Points: strategically located spaces where migrants can access safe and reliable support on their journeys.
“I am motivated by humanitarianism, by seeing how the Red Cross is an organization full of love for others. That we are people willing to give everything. For me, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me – being a member of the Red Cross family,” says Mirian.
Napoleón is based in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second largest city. He’s a former cameraman who has been volunteering as a driver for the Honduran Red Cross for five years.
A couple of years ago, Napoleón was one of many Honduran Red Cross volunteers who responded to devastating hurricanes Eta and Iota that ravaged the region.
He describes driving a large rescue truck through flood water so deep his vehicle nearly washed away. Despite treacherous conditions, he was able to reach and help rescue many stranded people, their belongings, and pets. He also assisted with the massive recovery and reconstruction effort, helping to put people’s lives and homes back together again.
The pride Napoleón takes in volunteering is written all over his face. His smile beams from ear to ear as he talks about supporting his fellow volunteers and rallying them together during a crisis.
“I like being a volunteer because you donate part of your life and you share feelings in helping humanity. It makes you feel good, feel satisfied, to be able to help,” says Napoleón.
Loany is also based in San Pedro Sula, but her role is a little different. She’s not a volunteer, instead she’s employed by the Honduran Red Cross to help volunteers.
She works with local branches, like the one in Copán, to improve their governance, financial management, and resource mobilization, so that their volunteers can provide better care and support to their communities.
While it might not sound as impressive as wading through flood waters to rescue survivors, Loany’s work is no less important. Strong local branches are the bedrock of the IFRC network. Without them, we can’t provide the fast, effective and local support that communities in crisis really need.
With one year’s experience, Loany is a relative newcomer to the Red Cross family. I asked her what working for the Red Cross means to her and whether she plans to continue:
“For me it means love, because wanting to do things well, wanting to help other people who are vulnerable or at risk, makes us give the best of ourselves as people. Now that I’ve entered the world of the Red Cross, I don’t know if I’ll ever leave!,” she says.
At the end of the volunteer meeting, the group disbands, bidding each other fond farewells.
I walk back to the main square in Copán, thinking about a word we often use in the humanitarian sector: ‘localization’.
It’s a jargon term. But what does it really mean?
I realise that, to me, it means Mirian, Napoleón and Loany: three people working hard within their local communities to make life better, safer, and brighter for those around them.
And it means Stanley: a man treading the same familiar streets for years in his hometown wearing his Red Cross vest. A man known, trusted, and respected by his local community, there for them through good times and bad.
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement statement at the International Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement welcomes the International Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants and their Host Countries and Communities co-organized by the Government of Canada and the European Commission.
The largest population movement in the Americas region’s recent history continues to be a tragic and underfunded humanitarian crisis.
Last year, I witnessed the conditions that migrants face on the route through Central America and Mexico.
The stories I heard from people who made this journey were of unimaginable suffering and horror. They were stories of exploitation, abuse, separation and loss of contacts with loved ones and, for too many—death.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement—National Societies, the IFRC and the ICRC—works with, and for people on the move, regardless of their status, seeking to enhance their protection and access to essential services and humanitarian assistance, in their countries of origin, transit and destination in more than 17 countries across the Americas.
Our experience, local reach and analysis tell us that despite our multi-stakeholder efforts, migrants still face a trail of unmet needs, including barriers to accessing essential humanitarian assistance and protection.
Our humanitarian imperative requires us to ensure that no one is left behind.
We must seek common, long-term solutions and investment to address the needs of people on the move in Venezuela and across the Americas region.
To do so, we must work together to ensure the following:
First—We believe that national policies must be aligned with national practices that favour social inclusion, and non-discrimination.
The priority should always be to prevent and address the separation of families.
Second: We believe that migrants must have guaranteed access to humanitarian assistance, essential services, information, justice, and protection in respect of their rights, irrespective of their status.
Red Cross Red Crescent Humanitarian Service Points—strategically located along key migration routes—provide lifesaving and protection services that address the needs of migrants and absorb critical public service gaps.
Invest in them, support migrants to access them.
Third: We recognize that governments have a responsibility to facilitate the work of humanitarian actors who provide principled support to migrants journeying along dangerous routes.
Local and national actors including National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies play a critical role in supporting migrants in vulnerable situations.
Individually and together, the components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement stand ready to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to the migrants in most vulnerable situations and host communities, keeping the response as local as possible and as global as necessary, and always in coordination with States.
IFRC Secretary General on the year ahead: "Hope in the midst of hopelessness"
It’s easy to feel a sense of hopelessness these days – climate crises, people on the verge of starvation in parts of Africa, multiple wars, protracted conflicts, people having to leave their homes out of desperation, shameful cases of exclusion in many parts of the world, rising mental health crises, people not having basic access to water and sanitation. This list can go on and on.
While these crises are affecting everyone, the marginalized, excluded, and last mile communities are bearing the brunt of these crises disproportionately.
Some 43 years ago, I signed up to be a young volunteer of the Nepal Red Cross. I joined not knowing how my life would unfold and where this would lead. I didn’t fully understand then, but I do now – the mission and mandate of our IFRC network, and the fundamental principles that guide our work with a very simple vision--to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
Three years ago, we didn’t know the scale of impact of a global pandemic, international armed conflict in the middle of Europe and all other global crises we have been responding to.
In this context, let me share some of my reflections on the current state of play.
Reflection on the IFRC’s mandate and relevance
As the world grapples with “polycrisis”, our mandate becomes as relevant as ever, if not more.
The IFRC is at the forefront of humanitarian efforts in times of disaster, crises, and other emergencies. By providing immediate assistance and long-term sustainable development programmes, the IFRC network puts people at the centre of vital, life-saving assistance.
We work to strengthen the resilience of communities in vulnerable settings, ensuring they are better prepared for and better able to cope with our changing world. In a time of great global disparities in terms of access to services, we bridge the gap.
The role of truly local organizations like our member National Societies is critical to reach the most disadvantaged sections of societies. Localization is fundamental as crises grow; but resources do not keep pace with them. Business as usual is not going to work. True empowerment of community organizations and decolonization of aid will be critical in 2023 and beyond.
Reflection on our fundamental principles, particularly the principle of neutrality
The threat to our principles, particularly the principle of neutrality, lies in the fact that the international armed conflict in Ukraine has taken on a much-heightened political dimension. This has placed great pressure on the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.
We must maintain a neutral stance and perform impartial aid operations, to ensure our principle of neutrality is observed. While we remain sensitive to the challenges emerging out of the conflict and we will be doing everything in our capacity to deliver on our mandate, it is essential that our fundamental principles remain the bedrock of our actions. Failing to do so will irreparably damage the notion of neutral, independent humanitarian action.
Amid rapid changes in the global humanitarian landscape, one thing remains constant – that’s our fundamental principles. Our values and principles transcend all the divisions that exist in the world.
Reflection on current trends
We closely monitor the global trends that impact our work. Climate and Environmental crises have been at the forefront. Social issues like the erosion of trust, migration and displacement, inequality, global health and food crises are directly linked to our mandate. Economic issues like the cost-of-living crisis and energy crises will impact our work. Technological issues, like the opportunity created by digitalization as well as the risks arising from the digital divide and those linked to humanitarian data security, will have to be considered. We must also be mindful of the global political landscape and current lack of global political leadership able to deal with multiple crises.
The international armed conflict in Ukraine will significantly impact the geopolitical landscape and will exacerbate the humanitarian situation across the globe. We must be humble enough to acknowledge that there is no humanitarian solution to most of these crises. There must be a political solution and we must support and advocate for the same.
Reflection on our ambitions
Our ambitions are simple as we deal with these trends.
We will continue to be bold in our support to our membership both on humanitarian action and in building resilience.
We will work harder to build a trustful relationship with our membership and governance structure.
We will invest more in National Society transformations leveraging the power of youth and volunteers. Advancing gender and inclusion will require consistent push.
We must do more to be a learning organization that continuously evolves. Within the family, we will continue to build mutually respectful movement cooperation.
We will expand our humanitarian diplomacy efforts and further strengthen our highly professional partnership with all partners. Further building on the new operating model and new resourcing architecture, we will develop more inclusive IFRC wide approaches.
We will accelerate our digitalization journey.
We will continue to strengthen agility and accountability. Respectful workplace, issues of fraud and corruption, sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, racism, and discrimination will be dealt with proactively and decisively.
The world is full of daunting challenges. But it is also full of people and organizations committed to confront them and work together to bring about positive change. We are one of those organizations.
We will lead from the front, working with our membership and their volunteers. We will be bold in our actions, but calm and composed in our approaches.
There will of course be challenges along the way, but we will always move forward with integrity. We will have to be at our best when the challenges are the greatest. And we will have to always bring hope amid hopelessness.
| Press release
IFRC partners with the Muslim World League to support humanitarian objectives
Geneva, 6 December 2022 – The IFRC is honoured to announce its partnership with the Muslim World League (MWL) to support humanitarian objectives.
The agreement between the IFRC and MWL creates a broad mandate for the humanitarian work and objectives of both organizations. It establishes important objectives to assist those impacted by the international armed conflict in Ukraine. These objectives include, but are not limited to:
Providing financial assistance for displaced people to support their basic needs
Providing shelter to those who left their homes and those whose homes were damaged or destroyed
Providing water, sanitation, hygiene, and health assistance
Strengthening National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ response capacities
The agreement between the IFRC and MWL also seeks to support migrants and displaced people from disasters and crises in other regions. This humanitarian support includes:
Food and non-food items
Water, sanitation, and hygiene
Health, including mental health support
Restoring families broken apart
Prevention of sexual and gender-based violence
The promotion of social cohesion between people on the move and host communities
Supporting migrants and host communities to enhance livelihoods, community-based resilience, and economic and social reintegration
The agreement also sets the goal of cooperation around innovative financing structures and activities, including Shariah compliant fundraising tools.
"We are confident that the new partnership with the Muslim World League will be significant, in order to reach those impacted by disasters and crises around the world.Our joint commitment to humanity and humanitarian action will be strengthened by this collaboration,"said IFRC Secretary General, Jagan Chapagain.
“Cooperation among international organizations such as the Muslim World League and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is crucial to achieving our humanitarian goals,”said MWL Secretary General, His Excellency Sheikh Dr. Mohammed Al-Issa.
“The Muslim World League is honoured to work alongside the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to bring humanitarian aid to those impacted by the international armed conflict in Ukraine and to support migrants and displaced people,” he continued.
West Africa migration: Red Cross offers an oasis of help and hope to migrants in Kolda, Senegal
"They are exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse, security risks, sexual and gender-based violence, and all kinds of dangers along their migratory routes; here we offer them hope, as well as protection, assistance, guidance and counselling”.
This is how Mariama Mballo, a social worker, sums up the work carried out at the Kolda Humanitarian Service Point (HSP) run by the Senegalese Red Cross and IFRC in southern Senegal.
"The Kolda HSP is a centre for listening, psychosocial support, counselling and assistance for migrants. It offers an anonymous, confidential and free space for reception and counselling", says the 30-year-old sociologist by training, who has been working there since February 2022.
Senegal, historically considered a destination country for migrants in West Africa, has become a transit country. Due to its geographical location, migrants, especially those coming from West Africa, pass through Senegal on their journey north to Maghreb countries or Europe in search of a better life.
The importance of psychosocial support
Travelling along perilous migration routes can have a profound impact on both the physical and mental health of migrants.
The aim of the psychosocial support provided in Kolda is to help people on the move regain a certain normality, mental balance and, above all, to encourage people to be active and committed to their own recovery—by finding defence and protection mechanisms that work for them.
When migrants in transit have needs that cannot be met at the HSP, they are referred to other external partner services.
"The key to the project is its volunteers, in fact, they are the 'front door', the ones who first receive the migrants, listen to them and then direct them to the social worker for an active and in-depth listening", stresses Mariama.
Staff working in Kolda can also sometimes become overwhelmed when listening to the experiences recounted to them by migrants during counselling sessions.
“Yes, there are stories that shock us, but we have the capacity to overcome them in order to offer migrants the guidance and support they need," says Mariama.
Meeting people’s wide-ranging needs
People on the move can access other vital assistance, such as food and water, in Kolda. Many migrants who arrive, including women and children, have gone days without food as they undertake their long journeys through often inhospitable areas.
Kolda's volunteers and staff also offer people useful advice and counselling on issues such as human trafficking, regaining contact with their families or the handling of important travel documents.
And, if necessary, migrants can also receive legal assistance, always with the utmost confidentiality and protection, as well as basic help with clothing and hygiene in order to ensure their health and well-being.
"The people who arrive at the HSP are often in a situation of advanced vulnerability, so we do everything we can to immediately meet their most pressing needs," says Mariama.
Volunteers don’t just support migrants. They also carry out intensive work with the local community to raise awareness and knowledge about respect for the rights and dignity of migrants.
This important work is carried out with the utmost confidentiality, always in line with our fundamental principles and the IFRC’s migration policy.
Assistance and protection of the most vulnerable migrants in West Africa
Kolda is just one example of the more than 600 Humanitarian Service Points run by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies along the world’s main migration routes. They are neutral spaces that provide a welcoming and safe environment for migrants to access essential services, regardless of their status and without fear of being detained or reported to the authorities.
Since the launch of the Kolda HSP en 2020, wich includes other small posts in Tanaff, Salikégné, Diaobé and Pata, volunteers have welcomed and supported more than 1,500 migrants.
It was set up as part of the 'Assistance and protection of the most vulnerable migrants in West Africa' project. Funded by the European Union, the project covers different busy migratory routes through Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mali, Niger and Senegal. In addition to the National Societies of these countries, the project also involves the IFRC, Spanish Red Cross, Danish Red Cross and Luxembourg Red Cross.
For more information, visit our migration and displacement webpage to learn more about the IFRC’s migration policies, programmes and operations
| Press release
IFRC and IOM sign regional MoU to increase collaboration to support migrants and displaced people
Beirut / Cairo, 22 December 2022 -The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have signed a regional Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to strengthen National Societies’ capacities and ensure coordinated action to protect and provide basic assistance services to migrants, including displaced people and communities in the MENA Region.
In 2020, there were 281 million international migrants and refugees in the world, out of which about 40 million were in the MENA region. In 2021, conflict and disasters triggered 1.2 million internal displacements in MENA, bringing the total of internal displacements in the region to 12.4 million.
Dr. Hossam Elsharkawi, IFRC MENA Regional Director said: “The IFRC has a long history of helping National Societies provide support and assistance to migrants and displaced people wherever they are along their journeys on land and at sea; our humanitarian service points offer services and protection”.
“We are joining forces with IOM to promote the safety, dignity, and well-being of migrants, irrespective of their legal status, especially those in fragile, protracted crises, violent and hard-to-reach settings,”added Dr Elsharkawi.
Mr. Othman Belbeisi, IOM MENA Regional Director, said: “IOM is pleased to announce this regional partnership with the IFRC which will enable us to strengthen our collaboration for the benefit of migrants, host communities, and partners.”
“Through our joint efforts, we look forward to enhancing migration governance working through a whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach in the spirit of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration and the Sustainable Development Goals,” added Mr Belbeisi.
The MoU is based on the Sustainable Development Goals, Global Protection Cluster (GP20), the Global Compact on Migration (GCM), and IOM framework for addressing internal displacement and its progressive resolutions of displacement framework. It aims to reinforce collaboration with governments and relevant stakeholders on human mobility governance at all levels by capitalizing on the IFRC Global Strategy on Migration as well as the MENA Red Cross/Red Crescent migration network.
The new partnership builds on previous cooperation between both organizations. Most recently in October 2022, IOM and IFRC organized a dialogue called “Strengthening the intergenerational Dialogue on Climate Action and the Impacts of Climate Change on human mobility” to discuss the climate change-mobility nexus, especially for young populations in the MENA region.
With climate change being an increasingly potent driver of migration, the collaboration between IOM and IFRC seeks to propose better solutions for evidence-based policy recommendations, in response to the climate crisis vis-a-vis migration trends in the region.
About the IFRC:
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest humanitarian network. Our secretariat supports local Red Cross and Red Crescent action in more than 192 countries, bringing together almost 15 million volunteers for the good of humanity.
About the IOM:
Established in 1951, IOM is the leading intergovernmental organization in the field of migration and works closely with governmental, intergovernmental, and non-governmental partners. With 175 member states, a further 8 states holding observer status, and offices in over 100 countries, IOM is dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. It does so by providing services and advice to governments and migrants.
For more information please contact:
In Beirut, IFRC Head of Communications, Mey Al Sayegh, [email protected]
In Cairo, Communication Officer at IOM MENA Regional Office, Tamim Elyan, [email protected]
| Press release
Survivors stranded at sea: SOS MEDITERRANEE and IFRC call for maritime law to be respected
The Ocean Viking – a search and rescue ship chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE and operated in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – rescued 234 women, children and men from six boats in distress in the central Mediterranean between October 22 and 26.
“People rescued in the central Mediterranean by ships should and must be allowed to disembark in a Place of Safety within reasonable time as is the case for search and rescue operations conducted by authorities and merchant ships. The ever-worsening blockages faced by rescue ships in this stretch of the sea since 2018 are discriminatory and unacceptable. Keeping survivors onboard ships hostages of political debate longer would be the result of a dramatic failure of European members and associated States,” says Xavier Lauth, SOS MEDITERRANEE Director of operations.
“The people rescued are absolutely exhausted, dehydrated, with psychological distress, and some requiring immediate medical attention. We provided health care, food, water, hygiene items, psychological first aid and opportunity to call and connect with family members. But they cannot afford to wait any longer, this uncertainty is making the situation unbearable with stress growing day by day. They urgently need a port of safety,” says Frido Herinckx, operations manager with IFRC.
People’s right to promptly disembark in a Place of Safety suffers no debate. The current blockage in the disembarkation of the search and rescue operations are grave and consequential breaches of maritime law. The international convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) frames Search and Rescue obligations to States and shipmasters in great detail, from the obligation to respond to and coordinate search for boats reported in distress, to the obligation to assign a “Place of Safety as soon as reasonably practicable”. All circumstances are considered, including the obligation for most able to assist States to cooperate in order to identify a place of safety for disembarkation; the obligation to provide assistance “regardless of the nationality or status of such persons” (Chapter V - Reg 33.1- amendment 2004), as well as the fact that “status assessment of rescued persons” should not “unduly delay disembarkation of survivors”. IMO RESOLUTION MSC.167(78) (adopted on 20 May 2004)
As per maritime conventions, the Ocean Viking informed relevant maritime authorities at all steps of the search and rescue operations and asked for the designation of a Place of Safety.
We must prioritize and cooperate in search and rescue operations for people on the move regardless of their status, including through clear, safe and predictable disembarkation mechanisms for rescued people.
SOS MEDITERRANEE and IFRC urge EU members and associated states to respect maritime law, cooperate in the designation of a Place of Safety for the survivors on Ocean Viking and put an end to the suffering of hundreds of men, women and children.
Global Route-Based Migration Programme
Our Global Route-Based Migration Programme aims to save lives and improve the safety and dignity of migrants, refugees, and other displaced people along dangerous and deadly migratory routes.
| Press release
Migration and displacement crisis in MENA: Responding to the basic needs of people on the move
Beirut, September 12, 2022 - The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with more than 40 million migrants and 14 million internally displaced persons, has some of the world’s longest protracted conflicts, combined with frequent natural disasters, man-made crises, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Ukraine conflict has added another layer of complexity.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has joined forces with three Red Crescent societies in the region to address the basic needs of people on the move, including refugees, migrants, and internally displaced persons.
Fabrizio Anzolini, the IFRC’s regional migration advisor for the MENA, said: “The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement approaches migration and displacement from a purely humanitarian perspective, without encouraging or discouraging it. However, we do respond to the needs of people on the move.”
As part of IFRC’s efforts to support more than 4,000 people on the move, the IFRC has signed three project agreements on migration and displacement in the region since July.
The agreements with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the Egyptian Red Crescent, and the Algerian Red Crescent were established in the framework of the IFRC’s ‘Humanitarian assistance and protection for people on the move.
This three-year programme focuses on humanitarian assistance to migrants, displaced people, and host communities on the migration routes of greatest humanitarian concern spanning Africa, the Middle East, and Europe and involves 34 Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies.
The agreement with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent aims to improve the livelihoods of internally displaced persons, returnees, and host communities in Syria, while the agreement with the Algerian Red Crescent was developed to improve the living standards and reduce the vulnerability of migrants, refugees and displaced persons in Algeria.
The agreement with the Egyptian Red Crescent focuses on providing comprehensive and structured support to children on the move and the community by establishing community schools and ensuring access to basic humanitarian services.
“This example of collaboration and coordination with other Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies would not have been possible without the support of the Italian Red Cross, which played a crucial role in facilitating the establishment of these three agreements,” Anzolini added.
Rania Ahmed, IFRC’s deputy regional director in the MENA, said: “The IFRC's attempts to make a difference in the migration and displacement crises in the Middle East and North Africa are at a critical juncture. Until long-term sustainable solutions are in place, we ensure that people on the move have access to health services and psychosocial support, and offer protection to children and victims of violence, as well as livelihood support and cash assistance.”
Ahmed added that as the link between climate change and the displacement of the most vulnerable is becoming more obvious by the day, “IFRC is eager to bring this issue to the states’ attention during the upcoming COP 27 Conference in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt”.
For more information, please contact
IFRC-MENA: Mey Al Sayegh, Head of Communications,
Mobile: +961 03229352,
E-mail: [email protected]
| Press release
Eight days waiting onboard Ocean Viking amid overwhelming medical needs: SOS MEDITERRANEE and IFRC call for 460 of survivors’ right to disembark
Marseille/Geneva/Budapest, 2 September 2022 - 460 women, children, babies and men are stuck in limbo waiting to disembark. Some with overwhelming medical needs have been stuck onboard eight days after being rescued on the deadly Central Mediterranean. SOS MEDITERRANEE and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are calling for these survivors’ right to disembark in a Place of Safety without further delay.
Within just 60 hours, the Ocean Viking—a search and rescue ship chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE in partnership with the IFRC — faced more distress cases than ever before. The crew found and rescued people from ten unseaworthy, overcrowded boats on the world’s deadliest sea migratory route since 2014, the Central Mediterranean. The search and rescue ship remains stranded at sea waiting for the survivors’ disembarkation.
The team is facing an overwhelming number of medical cases, including exhaustion, dehydration, and untreated skin infections and wounds. Other survivors are facing chronic medical conditions and two 9-month-pregnant women were evacuated.
“We have never experienced such level of severe medical cases on board Ocean Viking before. The survivors were found in the middle of high seas in unimaginable situations. In a desperate attempt to find safety, they were near to die at sea, either by drowning, or by dehydration. Per maritime law, their rescues will only be completed when they will have reached a Place of Safety. The current blockade for their disembarkation must find an end without further delay,” says Xavier Lauth, SOS MEDITERRANEE Director of Operations.
Every day that passes, the needs of those on board grow. Francesco Rocca, President of IFRC said:
“The sheer number of people rescued in such a short time with such severity of people’s conditions onboard only shows us that the situation is getting so much more desperate for those seeking safety and protection. We cannot continue to face this same challenge over and over again. We need longer term solutions – including a commitment for safe and regular pathways to protection and safety while also ensuring access to protection for those arriving spontaneously.”
SOS MEDITERRANEE and IFRC call on European members and associated States to show solidarity, observe maritime law and guarantee fundamental human rights. The wait and suffering of the 460 survivors onboard Ocean Viking must end immediately.
Note to editors:
The Ocean Viking rescued 466 women, children and men in ten rescue operations between August 25 and 27. Among the survivors are over 20 adult women, including several pregnant and over 80 minors, 75% of whom are unaccompanied.
On August 29, two 9-month-pregnant women had to be urgently medically evacuated. They were transferred onto an Italian Coast Guard patrol vessel with four of their relatives (two sisters and their two children, including a 3-week-old little girl).
Despite having contacted relevant maritime authorities at all steps of the search and rescue operations, the Ocean Viking was left alone, with no coordination nor information-sharing from relevant maritime authorities. Four of the unseaworthy and overcrowded boats in distress were spotted via binoculars from the bridge of the Ocean Viking. The distress alerts of the six other boats were relayed by civil NGOs such as the civil network Alarm Phone, the aircrafts of the NGOs Pilotes Volontaires and Sea-Watch, and the sailing vessels of the NGOs Open Arms and Resqship. The Ocean Viking informed relevant maritime authorities at all steps of the rescues and sent requests for the designation of a Place of Safety as soon as possible after each operation, as per maritime law.
Recently, a new shipwreck was reported by the International Organisation for Migration. Two bodies of deceased persons were retrieved by Libyan Coastguards and 19 people were reported missing by the six survivors of this tragedy on August 27, the same day Ocean Viking teams rescued 198 survivors from five boats in distress. Since 2014, almost 19,811 people are known to have perished in the central Mediterranean. That’s 80% of the deaths recorded in the whole Mediterranean Sea.
SOS MEDITERRANEE rescued 36,789 people since the beginning of its operations in 2016, with Aquarius and Ocean Viking. A total of 7,266 people were rescued by the Ocean Viking since she started operating in August 2019. Since September 2021, IFRC teams participated in ten patrols on Ocean Viking and helped rescue more than 2,700 people.
While the SOS MEDITERRANEE team focuses on search and rescue at sea, the IFRC team focuses on providing humanitarian post-rescue services, including medical care, first aid, psychosocial support, relief and protection.
For more information, please contact:
IFRC In Geneva: Jenelle Eli, +1 202 603 6803, [email protected]
IFRC in Budapest: Nora Peter, +36 70 265 4020, [email protected]
SOS MEDITERRANEE International & Operations: Laurence Bondard / +33 6 23 24 59 93 / [email protected]
| Press release
IFRC: 210,000 migrants need urgent life-saving assistance and protection in Central America and Mexico
Panama City, 1 August 2022 -The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is ramping up its response to provide urgent humanitarian assistance and protection to 210,000 people on the move by land northwards through Central America and Mexico.
Along migratory routes, many people suffer accidents and injuries, face extortion and sexual violence, or disappear and are separated from their families. Others are killed or die from disease or environmental conditions.
According to official data, since January 2022, there is a concerning increase in the number of migrants and refugees in Central America and Mexico compared to previous years. Irregular migration has increased an 85% in Panama, 689% in Honduras, and 108% in Mexico. If this upward trend continues in the coming months, an estimated 500,000people* would require humanitarian assistance.
Roger Alonso, IFRC Head of Disaster, Crises and Climate Unit, said:
“Local Red Cross teams, from Panama to Mexico, confirm that dramatic spike in the number of migrants moving northwards. We are especially concerned for women, children, the disabled, older people, and LGBTQI migrants. They are at extreme risk and need medical and mental health assistance, access to food and water, information, connectivity, and resources to cover vital expenses such as paying for safe places to sleep.”
Most of the migrants and refugees in transit through the region are from Cuba, Venezuela, and Haiti. Nationals from Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Mexico also continue heading north. The main reasons for migrating include improving their income, escaping violence, reuniting with family members, and recovering from the impact of recurring disasters and extreme weather events.
In Panama, in June 2022 alone, 15,000 migrants crossed the perilous Darien Gap – 500 people per day. Out of every 100 of them, 16 are children. In Costa Rica, 441 persons a day entered from Panama in May 2022, an increase of 158% compared to April 2022. Nearly 24,000 Cubans arrived in Nicaragua from January to May 2022, while in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico there is a significant increase in the number of returnees.
In this challenging context, the IFRC has launched a 28 million CHF** Emergency Appeal to support 210,000 people on the move during the next 12 months. Red Cross Societies in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico will provide migrants, refugees, and returnees with health care, mental health support, access to water and sanitation services, and cash for them to cover essential needs, such as accommodation or food.
Martha Keays, IFRC Regional Director for the Americas, said:
It is unacceptable that migrating continues to cost people their dignity and their lives. This is why we are scaling up our current response and standing up our vital emergency support along migratory routes. We call on governments, our partners, and donors to join this humanitarian action. Protecting people migrating in a desperate situation and defending their rights, disregarding their status is a humanitarian imperative and a collective duty. The devastating socioeconomic effects in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, continuing political crises, and disasters will continue to ramp up exponentially population movements. The challenge ahead of us is titanic.”
The Red Cross’ response will prioritize attention along the routes where most migrants and displaced persons face bureaucratic barriers, hostile climates, stigma, discrimination, violence, insecurity, and even loss of life. The support will be provided through the Red Cross network of 20 Humanitarian Service Points*** in Central America and Mexico. These are neutral, safe spaces—whether fixed or mobile—where people on the move can access health care, psychosocial support, and information, among other services.
In Panama, for instance, the Humanitarian Service Point provides migrants crossing the Darien Gap with first aid, health care for pregnant women and children, psychosocial support, clean water, access to mobile phones, and information about the risks and services they may find along their journey. People who require specialized health support are referred to public services. With migration flows increasingin the region, this model will continue to save lives and reduce suffering.
The IFRC and its network will also work with origin, transit, and host communities to address environmental-, climate-, and livelihood-related issues that may trigger population movements.
For more information or to arrange an interview:
In Panama: Susana Arroyo Barrantes, [email protected]
In Panama: Maria Langman, [email protected],+507 6550 1090
In Geneva: Jenelle Eli, [email protected],+1 202 603 6803
*The 500,000 people possibly affected have been estimated taking into account irregular crossing entries and reports from July to December 2021, considering a 45% increase scenario (most countries are above 100% increase ) and at least one aggregate of 173,176 from January to June 2022.
***Six in Guatemala, eight in Mexico, five in Honduras and one in Panama.