Update on the Venezuelan Red Cross
The IFRC is aware of the Supreme Court decision regarding the reorganization of the Venezuelan Red Cross’ leadership and board, and related actions. The IFRC was dispatching senior officials to Caracas this week to join its permanent delegation in the country to deal with the ongoing developments; this will continue with the goal to better understand the scope of risks and ability to continue providing principle-based humanitarian services, and the level of government involvement, if any, going forward.
Our priority is to protect the critical role of the Venezuelan Red Cross and its volunteers and staff in the country: their neutral, impartial, and independent humanitarian action has been essential in saving lives.
We are currently closely monitoring the situation, assessing the best way forward, and we will inform on our next steps based on that analysis.
Any State intervention in our National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies raises serious concerns regarding their independence and principle-based humanitarian work of National Societies and will be treated with the utmost importance. IFRC has its own mechanisms to address situations when a member National Society might be considered breaching our fundamental principles and we encourage governments to facilitate the IFRC’s own internal mechanism to address such situations.
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.”
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.
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.
Venezuelan Red Cross
Only half of refugees and migrants from Venezuela feel informed, survey finds
A regional survey on the information and communication needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela found that half of them feel that they don’t have enough information on their rights and where to obtain assistance. The study was carried out by over 30 organizations across Latin America and the Caribbean, under the framework of the Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V).
Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean host an estimated 3.9 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela. With rising numbers, increasing needs and limited resources, humanitarian organizations have come together to understand the needs and at the same time support adaptation processes that put people at the center of the response.
The assessment aims to understand what the communication preferences and habits of people on the move are, identify the best way to reach those in need, and inform them about their rights and assistance available to them.
According to the exercise, the main communication channels and sources of information for refugees and migrants from Venezuela are WhatsApp and Facebook. In addition, face-to-face communication with family, friends and humanitarian actors are among the most trusted sources of information, especially for those in transit.
“There is a lot of information on social media but it is incorrect or inaccurate. We would like to receive information through social networks but from trusted sources; true and accurate information.” Main survey, Venezuelan woman in Peru.
While some 70 percent of interviewees said they have access to information and to a mobile phone, a considerable number - 30 percent - do not have access to a mobile phone to communicate with friends and family or to look for information, with differences across the countries and depending on whether they are in transit or in-destination.
Implementing strong and inclusive communication mechanisms, including the establishment of feedback and accountability systems shape the way timely and potentially life-saving information is shared through communication channels of choice which help people make decisions at any stage of their journey. Trust, availability and inclusivity are all criteria that must be considered when formulating the correct approach to establishing such communications.
Increased community engagement and participation of refugees, migrants and host communities throughout all the interventions that affect their lives is needed to ensure assistance responds to actual needs and priorities.
The exercise was jointly led by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and IFRC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as part of the Communicating with Communities/Communication for Development Working Group of the Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform (R4V), co-lead by UNICEF, in coordination with regional and national inter-agency structures.
The report is available here (link)
For more information on this topic, please contact:
Diana Medina, IFRC, [email protected], +507 6780 5395
Olga Sarrado, ACNUR, [email protected], +507 6640 0185
| Press release
Venezuela: New Red Cross health consignment arrives in Caracas from Italy
Caracas/Panama/Geneva/Rome, 31 July 2019 – A consignment of 34 tons of medicines and medical supplies arrived at Caracas international airport this morning from Italy, the president of the Venezuelan Red Cross, Dr. Mario Villarroel, has confirmed.This consignment was sent by Italian Red Cross, with the support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and private donors: this is an in-kind donation of 3 million euro to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) 50 million Swiss franc emergency appeal which aims to bring a range of health services to 650,000 people in Venezuela over 12 months.The shipment that arrived today includes essential medicines such as antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, health disposables and a range of medical equipment such as defibrillators.The IFRC operation is focusing on supporting Venezuelan health centres, including the Venezuelan Red Cross’ health network, with medicines and equipment. The operation will also ensure that hospitals and clinics that are being supported have access to clean water and effective sanitation.Francesco Rocca, President of IFRC and the Italian Red Cross, said: “This consignment will enable us to expand our operation, scaling up our support to Venezuelan health facilities and ensuring that vulnerable people can access this much-needed support. “We know this consignment will not meet all the needs in the country: we call on all partners and donors to support our appeal to alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelans. I thank the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Italian donors who supported us in this new consignment.”Dr Mario Villarroel, President of the Venezuelan Red Cross, said: "Humanitarian aid saves lives and the Venezuelan Red Cross seeks to support the country's health needs. This is support for the people most in need, which has always been the spirit of our humanitarian work.”
| Press release
IFRC to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela
Caracas/Panama/Geneva, 29 March 2019— The President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has announced that IFRC will have unhindered access to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela to support a major scale up of medical care and other assistance by the Venezuela Red Cross.
The announcement comes after a series of meetings this week in the Venezuelan capital Caracas with institutions and humanitarian, social and political groups.
Speaking at a press conference in Caracas, IFRC President Francesco Rocca said:
“The IFRC will be able to scale up health activities across the country in a manner that is independent, neutral, impartial and unhindered, reaching more vulnerable people.”
“In a country torn apart by the struggle between powers, the power of humanity has prevailed. This is a crucial step forward in expanding humanitarian services in Venezuela, with a specific focus on health, saving more lives, and alleviating the suffering of vulnerable people who are facing a dire situation.”
With IFRC support, the Venezuelan Red Cross currently runs a network of 8 hospitals and 33 medical clinics. It also offers community-based medical screenings, consultations and disease prevention and hygiene programs. The Venezuelan Red Cross has more than 2,600 volunteers working across the country, including 500 who deliver first aid.
“As we scale up our operations, we can count on the committed Venezuelan Red Cross volunteers to reach people in need, whoever they are and wherever they are, with health care as the priority,” said Mr Rocca.
| Press release
Venezuela: Health care at core of expanded humanitarian operation
Geneva, 6 March 2019 – In the face of rising humanitarian needs in Venezuela, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has announced a significant expansion of its support to the lifesaving activities of the Venezuelan Red Cross.
IFRC is now looking to its partners for 13 million Swiss francs for 2019 – close to triple the 4.8 million Swiss francs initially sought at the beginning of 2019. In total, the Red Cross aims to reach 220,000 highly vulnerable people.
Announcing the revised plan, IFRC President, Francesco Rocca, said:
“Our commitment is to the people of Venezuela. Putting politics to the side, the situation is steadily deteriorating, and many people need our help.
“This is a plan that responds to pressing humanitarian needs that our volunteers have independently identified and verified. Health is a key priority for us, and this is why we are strengthening our support to Venezuelan Red Cross health facilities as well as to the work they do in local and vulnerable communities. Our response is built on concrete actions that we know can be delivered in a neutral and impartial manner despite the highly complex situation in the country. We look now to our partners and donors to support us,” said Mr Rocca.
This revised plan builds on the work already underway in Venezuela, including during recent demonstrations where Red Cross volunteers provided first aid to people injured. Central to it are efforts to provide a range of critical health services.
IFRC Secretary General, Elhadj As Sy, said:
“Health needs in Venezuela have been increasing in recent years. There are critical gaps that, through this plan, we aim to address by leveraging the Venezuelan Red Cross’ network of eight hospitals and 33 clinics across the country, as well as its thousands of community volunteers and trained first aiders.”
The plan also complements the work that is underway elsewhere across the region to aid and support people seeking humanitarian assistance in neighbouring countries. For example, in Colombia, Red Cross volunteers and staff have supported more than 740,000 Venezuelans with a range of services, including emergency and primary health care, food and nutrition supplies, shelter support and even cash assistance.
The UN announced last month that the number of Venezuelans who have left the country since 2015 has climbed to 3.4 million
IFRC’s Secretary General, Elhadj As Sy, said:
“While we ramp up efforts inside Venezuela, we also continue efforts to support people in need of humanitarian assistance in neighbouring countries. Red Cross volunteers and emergency teams are stationed at border crossings and along roadsides, offering care and support to thousands of people every day. However, these efforts may falter without additional resources,” said Mr Sy.
| Press release
Venezuela: Respect and protect our neutrality and impartiality, says Red Cross President
Caracas/Geneva, 8 February 2019 – The President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has strongly defended principled humanitarian action, calling on stakeholders in Venezuela and around the world to respect the neutral, impartial and independent nature of the Red Cross’ humanitarian work in the country.
Speaking at a press conference in the Venezuela capital Caracas, IFRC President Francesco Rocca said:
“The focus of the Red Cross in Venezuela – as it is around the world – is on responding to the needs of the people, without regard for their social status or political views”, said Mr Rocca.
“This commitment to humanitarian principles – to neutrality, impartiality and independence – means that Red Cross volunteers are trusted and able to reach communities and people in need. Our work is not political. Don’t politicize us,” said Mr Rocca.
The situation in Venezuela is evolving constantly. According to the UN, more than 3 million people have left the country since mid-2017 – an historic phenomenon that has triggered humanitarian relief efforts across the region, while also creating knock-on effects in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan Red Cross has more than 2,600 active volunteers across the country and operates eight hospitals and 38 outpatient clinics. In 2018 alone, these facilities provided services to more than 1 million Venezuelans.
“I want to also recognize the tremendous dedication and courage of Red Cross volunteers,” said Mr Rocca. “We salute you, we stand with you, and we are ready to scale up and expand our support so that you have the resources to reach all those who need your help.”
| Press release
Media Advisory: Red Cross President in Venezuela
Geneva/Caracas, 7 February 2019: The President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Francesco Rocca, will be in Venezuela between 8-10 February.
He will be taking part in a press conference at 13h00 on Friday 8 February at:
Venezuelan Red Cross Headquarters
Edificio Cruz Roja Venezolana
Final av Andres Beloo #4, Caracas
During his visit, he will meet Red Cross emergency teams, volunteers and leadership. He will be discussing humanitarian needs in the country and the Red Cross’ response, and will highlight the importance of neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian action.