| Press release
Refugees are paying the highest price in the COVID-19 pandemic
Geneva, 18 June 2021 – Ahead of World Refugee Day on 20 June, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) raises the alarm about the situation of refugees who are facing severe humanitarian hardships, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jagan Chapagain, IFRC Secretary General, said:
“Vulnerable groups, such as refugees, are paying the highest price in the COVID-19 pandemic. We are seeing alarming trends that show many refugees around the world are unable to pay for food or rent and are struggling to access health care and education.
“Refugees have been disproportionately affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and have often been left out of socio-economic support policies. A large number of refugees have lost their sources of income or depleted their savings and are now adopting negative strategies to survive.”
In Bangladesh, latest analysis carried out in refugee camps in Cox's Bazar by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society – with support from the IFRC – reveals that communities are struggling to cover their essential needs, particularly due to COVID-19 related movement restrictions, health issues, restricted access to markets, and a recent major fire in the camps.
Price hikes in local markets and further displacement caused by camp fires have pushed many families further into food insecurity. During April and May, around 30,000 refugees in the Cox's Bazar camps raised questions and concerns, with 63% seeking services, including urgent food relief and shelter. Just over one third (37%) requested health or medical care.
In the past year, reduced presence of humanitarian organizations in the camps due to COVID-19 restrictions also led to an increase in child labour, sexual and gender-based violence and heightened risk of human trafficking. In addition, an increase in child marriage has been observed since the start of the pandemic, often seen as an alternative to education or work.
In Colombia, border closures, movement restrictions and loss of livelihoods led to limited
access to food and accommodation, with many refugees and migrants – most of whom are from Venezuela - eating only once per day. 18% of those surveyed by the Red Cross Red Crescent Global Migration Lab cited food security and malnutrition as the biggest risks for children during the pandemic.
In Turkey, a recent study – conducted by the Turkish Red Crescent and the IFRC – indicates that, among the 4,500 refugee households surveyed, debt levels have increased by nearly 50% over the last year. Even more alarming is the fact that many families are unable or can barely afford to pay for what they need most, such as food (72%) and rent (66%). However, cash assistance provided by the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) is helping refugees to cover some of these costs.
In order to cope with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, refugees are increasingly relying on survival strategies, such as reducing food consumption, buying cheaper and less nutritious food, buying food on credit and borrowing money from relatives and friends. These strategies have negative consequences on health and well-being and contribute to worrying levels of food insecurity and skyrocketing debts for refugees.
“Nobody should be forced to choose between giving their family food or paying their rent; nor face hunger or forced evictions,” said Jagan Chapagain. “Governments should work together with donors, international and multilateral organizations, private sector and civil society to effectively mitigate the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable groups, such as refugees and migrants. It's our shared responsibility to ensure that everyone can meet their most essential needs”.
 Households receiving cash assistance from the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) are identified as “eligible” in the Intersectoral Vulnerability Study, while those not receiving support are “ineligible”. In Turkey, refugees are officially recognized as “foreigners who are under international protection or temporary protection”.
Colombian Red Cross
| Press release
Humanitarian response to hurricanes Eta and Iota one of the most challenging faced by Central America in decades
Panama/Geneva, 14 December 2020– One month after hurricanes Eta and Iota hit Central America and Colombia, affecting more than 7.5 million people, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warns that millions are still in need of immediate humanitarian support in what has become one of the most challenging disasters faced by the region in recent history.
The IFRC and National Red Cross Societies are currently addressing the most urgent needs of over 100,000 people through seven simultaneous humanitarian operations in Colombia, Belize, Costa Rica, Panamá, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. The situation is especially severe in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala, where more than 6 million people have been affected by heavy rains, floods, and landslides. In-depth damage and needs assessments are ongoing but results from all rapid assessments conducted so far paint a bleak humanitarian picture in both the short and medium term.
Felipe del Cid, Head of the IFRC’s Disaster Response Unit in the Americas, said: “Millions of people still need immediate humanitarian support: shelter, health care, psychosocial support, access to food, clean water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. We are talking about a huge disaster, exacerbating an already ruinous combination of COVID-19, poverty and inequality in the region.These overlapping crises are making our operation one of the most complex we have ever mounted. The support of the international community is urgent to protect lives and livelihoods”.
On 8 November, the IFRC launched an Emergency Appeal for 20 million Swiss Francs to assist 75,000 of the worst affected people in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua for at least 18 months. Currently only 58% funded, the appeal focuses on rebuilding and repairing damaged shelters, improving access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, addressing health needs, including COVID-19 prevention measures, and providing psychosocial support. The operation will also seek to address the mid-term consequences, such as the hurricanes’ impact on livelihoods and displacement.
“Eta and Iota have wiped out livestock, destroyedtools,harvests and farming areas, and impacted popular tourist spotsacross a region that was already facing an economic crisis related to COVID-19 and where the incomes of thousands of families had already been severely depleted. People are at risk of resorting to coping strategiessuch as selling their animals and properties,eating less food, andabandoning their homes to look for new ways of generating income”, added del Cid.
History has shown that hurricanes can cause displacement influxes as the loss of housing and livelihoods fuel unemployment and lead to increased movement of people to urban centres. Eta and Iota also represent a challenge for returned populations. InGuatemala and Honduras,some of the areas hit hardest have also welcomed large groups of returned people whose journeys have not ended in the way they expected. Figures on unemployment, poverty, and vulnerability were already high due to COVID-19 and will very likely deteriorate due to Eta and Iota.
Audiovisual materials including high quality B-roll and images available to download and use here.
Vichada: the Colombian Red Cross accompanies communities with comprehensive services at the border
By Melissa Monzon
“When should we wash our hands?” asks Sergio Gutierrez, to three children who have been listening to him very carefully. The children respond in chorus “Before eating, after going to the bathroom…”, one of the kids looks at Sergio doubtfully, and Sergio looks back at him as if saying You can do it. “…and after playing”, answers the little one with the pride that a student shows when he has learned the lesson.
These children, who are from Venezuela, have been participating in the recreational activities carried out by the Colombian Red Cross in the municipality of Puerto Carreño, capital of the department of Vichada, Colombia.
“We carry out close, pedagogical work with children, teenagers, expectant and nursing mothers, especially on the current issue that is COVID-19. Through recreational activities and characters, whether puppets or working with volunteers, we have been able to interact with families, to continue raising awareness and creating space for reflection on issues that meet the needs of the population”, says Sergio, a psychologist who moved from his native Bucaramanga to Vichada to take care of the Colombian Red Cross’ protective space, where children, teenagers and adults learn by playing, strengthening their bonds and providing them with a protective environment with actions focused on mental health and psychosocial well-being.
To get to Bogota, the country’s capital, from Vichada, one must make a trip by bus that will take two days approximately, with many transfers. Vichada is a department with many needs, and also a border crossing for those who migrate from Venezuela to Colombia, whether it is their final destination or transit through to another country. It is also a territory with a diverse ecosystem, crossed by the Meta and Orinoco rivers, with enormous cultural and social potential, which demands a comprehensive and sustainable humanitarian response, that guarantees collective participation for development.
In Vichada, poverty rates are high, and access to health services is scarce: the proportion of people with unsatisfied basic needs in the department reaches 67% according to the Colombian National Administrative Department of Statistics, and the situation of indigenous communities (many of them cross-border, and that represent more than 58% of the population) is worrying: only about 10% of the indigenous population in Vichada has electric power service, the aqueduct coverage reaches only 9% of indigenous people, and in general, health care services are very limited, directly affecting the quality of life in the area.
The arrival of COVID-19 has made the situation even more complex. Since April 2019, the Colombian Red Cross has been providing health care, nursing and psychology services, health promotion and disease prevention activities, as well as the delivery of free medicine aimed at migrants and vulnerable local population, as well protection services through the protective space. Now, during the pandemic, it is the only organization providing continuous ambulatory health services in the area, because the municipality hospital, temporarily, only provides emergency care.
For Jessica Teheran, nurse at the Vichada branch, what is more satisfying, beyond giving health care, is knowing that she is contributing to behavioural change: “We are not only providing medical or psychological care, but we are also teaching the new mother who does not know how to breastfeed, raising awareness of the elderly who may not follow their hypertension treatment, congratulating the future mother who even through difficult times has the desire to continue with her pregnancy. Being in Vichada and working with all of them totally changed my vision of the world, thus enriching my personal and professional life.”
Until the end of June 2020, the Colombian Red Cross – Vichada branch, with the support of IFRC trough the Emergency Appeal: Colombia Population Movement, has provided more than 27,000 health services, almost 10,000 of them in nursing services, more than 4,800 psychology services and attended to about 3,500 children and vulnerable population in its protective space. In addition, in each health care attention, patients received free medicine and participate in educational talks on disease prevention and health promotion, and themes related to mental health. Likewise, hygiene kits, prenatal kits, food kits, psychosocial support kits, condoms and hand sanitizers have been delivered. Finally, two hydration points have been installed in the department to provide access to safe water to anyone who needs it.
“The impact that the work has in the migrant population is evidenced on a daily basis in the medical consultations with grateful patients, since they find in the Colombian Red Cross, not only assistance, but also a friendly helping hand in this vulnerable situation to which they are exposed. For me as a migrant, it is a gratifying experience to be able to work with other migrants, to be able to offer them guidance or words of encouragement”, concludes Ligia Helena Gómez, Venezuelan by birth, and doctor of the population movement project of the Colombian Red Cross in Vichada.
*some shots of this video were taken before COVID-19 reached Colombia
Colombian Red Cross supports thousands of migrants in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic
In the middle of the “Parque del Agua” in Bucaramanga, Santander, it is possible to watch Colombian Red Cross personnel providing primary health care to migrants during medical days. Entire families come here to be treated. As they wait their turn, standing about 1.5 metres apart, they receive material and advice from National Society volunteers on what COVID-19 is and how to prevent it. This is one of the many activities the Red Cross is carrying out to care for people on the move, one of the populations most affected by COVID-19.In Colombia, tens of thousands of migrants (especially of Venezuelan nationality) decided to return to their countries of origin to face the crisis. Since the closure of the borders, nearly 60,000 Venezuelans have moved within Colombia.“The migration scenario has become very complicated,” says Marilyn Bonfante, Director of the Social and Humanitarian Development Unit of the Colombian Red Cross. “There has been an increase in unsatisfied basic needs among migrants, and there has been a setback in social and economic inclusion processes that had advanced significantly prior to the pandemic.”In addition, Bonfante states that the current conditions of mobility are high risk."Irregular recruitment of migrants has been detected and there are risks associated with border crossing on informal routes, especially in Ipiales and Nariño with average flows of 250 people per day".Despite the complexity of carrying out humanitarian work in the midst of the pandemic, Colombian Red Cross volunteers have responded positively to this reality. The National Society actively works in primary health care, psychosocial support, protection, humanitarian assistance and water distribution. And like other National Societies in the region and the world, it has had to adapt to working in an unprecedented context.With the intense work carried out, especially in border areas, nearly 40,000 migrants have been reached. The Red Cross provides primary health care through the use of mobile units, at fixed points and by holding health days in public spaces. A telephone line and a WhatsApp line are also available for medical orientation and psychosocial support. Also, protection spaces have been created for children and families who have required emotional support. In these spaces, recreational activities are generated and awareness of the disease and forms of prevention are promoted. In addition, to help provide basic necessities, food kits and cash transfer vouchers have been distributed to nearly 30,000 people.Given the conditions of the pandemic, special emphasis has been placed on protecting volunteers who are carrying out front-line actions. The National Society has made a tele-assistance line available to its staff and their families. In addition, it has created spaces with its 29 branches to provide support for the mental health and well-being of volunteers. This action has been very effective through virtual links with which 287 members have been reached so far.In recent weeks, the Colombian Red Cross Society has been working on preparing its volunteers and technical staff to strengthen the response in the field and increase the safety of volunteers during their work.
Luimer Guerrero has taken his music from Venezuela to Colombia
Luimer Guerrero arrived to Bucaramanga, Colombia, over a year ago with his two children, his wife and his mother-in-law on a bus that they took with the help of their religious congregation in Venezuela. Luimer undertook his journey full of dreams and expectations with the conviction that he would have new opportunities to reemerge in a country he did not completely know. And as if it was a sign, the first place they approached was the Center for Solidary Attention and Support (CASA by its acronym in Spanish) of the Colombian Red Cross. There they received information that would be among the most important for him and his family, the explanation on how to obtain the Special Permit of Permanence (PEP), a document that the Colombian Government gives to Venezuelan migrants. For Luimer, that was his first contact with a group of people he now considers a family and an "impressive" organization, the Colombian Red Cross.
After this, there were other opportunities; the Colombian Red Cross arrived with medicine and organized health days in the place where Luimer was living together with dozens of people. On another occasion, Luimer says that in the middle of a dental emergency, and without knowing exactly where to go, they approached the humanitarian institution and paid attention to them. “They helped us get to the nearest place where we could get help; I can say that whenever we ask for help we find a helping hand for myself and my family. ”
Music, a blessing of life
Today, this Venezuelan migrant is a music teacher thanks to the Red Cross staff who encouraged him to teach and to the people who met him and recommended him with his friends. He has 25 students among children, adults and groups of young people who are taught an art that makes their hearts happy and it is also the work that allows him to support his family.
Bucaramanga (Santander) has been for Guerrero a space in which he has been able to learn from Colombian culture and at the same time has been an opportunity to be an ambassador of the Venezuelan chords with which he grew up. Music has been and will remain a seal throughout his life.
Guerrero insists that to get ahead in Colombia and anywhere in the world you need to have an entrepreneurial mind. For this reason he has formed his StaffGL music academy, and thanks to his entrepreneurship he has been on several stages, one of them the Casa del Libro in Bucaramanga (Santander). His wife, meanwhile, is also working on an espresso coffee initiative. Luimer is hopeful and ensures that with effort and dedication he will keep moving forward.
‘Now that she can walk I feel very happy. I feel good because I know I’m doing my best for her’
Since she wakes up until she goes to bed, Jane Pacheco focuses all her energy and resources on stimulating and taking care of little Milagros, her two-year old daughter. Her sisters as well as other family members, neighbours and Red Cross staff support her day after day. Raising a baby is not an easy task, especially if the child is affected by congenital Zika syndrome.
‘I’m very lucky because I’ve received plenty of support from my family’
‘I’m very lucky because I’ve received plenty of support from my family. My sisters have helped me a lot, and my neighbours and my dad too. They help me carry her, they take care of her when I feel overwhelmed, and they stand by my side. If for some reason I can’t take her to therapy, they do. My dad helps me with money for transport to go to therapy, while my sisters help me with the food and other items, so that my daughter has everything she needs’, says Jane, seated in the living room with her two sisters and a neighbour, in La Bolivariana, a neighbourhood of Santa Marta, Colombia.
Milagros likes chicken, vegetables, purées and rice. She’s been able to digest solid food for some months now. She enjoys to be lifted up, she loves tickles, and above all, she loves being in the pool. Thanks to Jane’s determination to provide her daughter with the best care possible, she is now receiving hydrotherapy to stimulate her motor skills. Milagros loves the exercises in the water and has made a lot of progress.
Jane also counts on her family’s support to give her daughter the physical stimulation she needs. ‘When they come home from the therapy, Jane teaches us how to do the stimulation exercises and we practice them. She explains to us how to move Milagro and reminds us that we need look at her in the eye while we are speaking that she learns to recognize us. Now that she started to walk, we keep her standing as long as possible to strengthen her legs’, says Grey, Jane’s oldest sister.
‘When my children were little, Jane was so loving and caring with them; now is our turn to be there for her. If she needs me, if she needs anything from me, I’m going to help her, I always tell her that. We were told that Milagros was not going to be able to walk. But we didn’t give up, we fought, and we’ve seen a lot of progress. Milagros is actually walking’, adds Magola, Jane’s youngest sister.
‘No one had ever asked me how I felt until the Red Cross arrived’
While she looks at her daughter taking her first steps, Jane, visibly moved, shares a very important moment for her and her family: ‘On 31 December, Milagros managed to stand up by herself and came walking towards me. We were speechless, because we had been told she was never going to be able to walk. I felt such an intense joy that I started to cry’.
Jane ran to tell her relatives and neighbours, and phoned a Red Cross’ staff member who has been accompanying her over the last months. ‘Now that Milagros can walk, I feel very happy. And I also feel good because they tell me that I’m doing it right. I feel a lot more motivated’, says Jane.
Congenital Zika syndrome imposes a big emotional burden on families of children affected by this condition. From the day the baby is born, or even during pregnancy, women experience great anxiety and fear of having a child that would be ‘different’ and they usually don’t have access to the appropriate psychosocial support. Jane can count on the support from her sisters and other members to take care of Milagro, however the support she needs for herself is provided by the Colombian Red Cross, which focuses on both the child’s and the mother’s well-being.
‘The Red Cross has been helping me above all, giving me the support I need for myself. Before they came, I hadn’t spoken to anybody about my feelings and no one had asked me how I felt. And this is a very important thing. The other day, I suddenly woke up feeling scared, I was feeling really bad, and I started to do the breathing exercises they taught me. That made me feel much better. The Red Cross is helping me as much as my family’, says Jane expressing her gratitude.
In the picture: Dian Milagro and her aunt Magola.