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Press Release

IRC: Desperation growing in Venezuela and Colombia, women and girls vulnerable, urgent action needed

With 5,000 Venezuelans a day leaving the country, after years of hunger and inadequate medical care, IRC teams on the ground in Colombia are seeing growing desperation among those fleeing, a marked increase in the number of women and girls, and growing risks to the population. We call for all sides to prioritise the needs of the Venezuelan people and ensure that aid reaches those in need.

The IRC is working in Colombia supporting Venezuelans with health care for pregnant women and young children, cash to buy food and other necessities, and providing support and counselling for women and children who have experienced trauma. The IRC is also helping Venezuelans in Venezuela through partners.

David Miliband, CEO and President of the International Rescue Committee said: “The crisis in Venezuela, exported to its neighbours through the flow of refugees, now demands humanitarian and diplomatic attention of the highest order and principle.

The demand for aid is growing and changing, with needs now increasingly acute. Over the past few weeks the profile of people crossing the bridge from Venezuela to Colombia has changed - marking new levels of desperation amongst the population. IRC teams in Colombia are now seeing a significantly higher number of women and children making the journey, who are faced with unique risks and challenges. The IRC’s health and support centre in Cucuta has seen a spike in the number of women needing psychological and specialised support to help them to deal with the trauma they have experienced. If people continue to leave Venezuela at the rate we are seeing today, it’s highly possible that services in Colombia will reach breaking point.”

After making the decision to leave their homes, many women still face huge challenges in Colombia. An IRC assessment conducted in six cities across Colombia found that Venezuelan women are taking on extreme coping mechanisms in order to survive and provide for their families, including sex work. One women’s focus group reported that even professionals, such as doctors, have turned to sex work to make ends meet.

All five female focus groups mentioned that sexual violence is occurring against Venezuelan women in Colombia, with some participants having experienced violence themselves. Women also reported being subject to a high degree of both verbal and physical harassment, and a fear that their children, specifically girls, would be kidnapped.

David Miliband adds: “With two people already losing their lives at the Brazil-Venezuela border, we urge all sides to recognise the vital necessity of respect for international humanitarian law, including the prohibition on restrictions on the flow of food and medicine, in the service of the principle of unconditional aid flows.”

IRC assessment is available for download here.

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Jessica Wanless at jessica.wanless [at] rescue.org.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.