×

Search form

Press Release

New IRC survey shows extreme coping strategies Venezuelans in Colombia are undertaking to survive

  • Conditions inside Venezuela continue to deteriorate - a million Venezuelans have now sought refuge in Colombia, and this number could double in next six months;
  • IRC has conducted an assessment of 1,200 individuals in six locations across Colombia to understand needs of Venezuelans;
  • In Colombia, Venezuelans are being forced to undertake desperate measures to earn money to survive including a high prevalence of sex work;
  • 94% of people surveyed reported that they were separated from those that they usually live with in Venezuela, including almost half who said they had been separated from children. This is approximately 5X higher than typically seen in emergency contexts;
  • Only a fifth of those surveyed had accessed any assistance in Colombia;
  • The top six most commonly reported needs of Venezuelans settled in Colombia - a job, food, money for rent, healthcare, shelter, and medicine - could all be met with access to an income or regular cash.

As Venezuela’s crisis deepens, thousands are forced to flee the country every day - an exodus comparable to the European refugee crisis of 2015. Most Venezuelan refugees cross into Colombia, which is already hosting some one million Venezuelans. This number predicted to potentially double over the next six months as the Venezuelan economy continues to freefall along with the country’s healthcare system.

In the past two weeks, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) conducted an assessment of the needs of Venezuelans in six locations across Colombia, including both those transiting through the country and those that were settled. Through the assessment IRC’s team surveyed over 1,200 individuals and conducted 11 focus groups across Barranquilla, Bogotá, Cali, Maicao, Medellín, and Putumayo department. The full report is available for download here.

Marianne Menijvar, IRC’s country director in Colombia says: “Each day the crisis in Venezuela deepens. Economic and political collapse are putting food and medicine out of reach for hundreds of thousands, forcing people to make the desperate decision to leave their home and flee to Colombia. 

“The top six most commonly reported needs of Venezuelans settled in Colombia - a job, food, money for rent, healthcare, shelter, and medicine - could all be met with access to an income, and in order to survive, Venezuelans are being forced to undertake desperate measures in order to earn money. 

“Venezuelans told us that children who had recently arrived in Colombia are often not properly nourished, and mothers were often unable to produce milk due to lack of proper nutrition. But once in Colombia, life is far from easy. People reported eating smaller portion and less often, and in some cases, adults said they were skipping meals in order for children to eat. Many people are forced to live in unsanitary and unsafe conditions with 32% of settled women reported that they felt at risk when using bathing facilities and toilets.

“While the majority of Venezuelans surveyed were professionals back home, many are struggling to make a living in Colombia - with as many as 8 out of 10 of settled respondents reported urgently needing an income stream and food as a top humanitarian need. What's more, forced by a lack of money and hunger, vulnerable Venezuelans are adopting negative coping mechanisms to survive - including incurring debt, reducing meals, and engaging in 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.

Marianne Menijvar says: “Families have been separated by this crisis at an alarming rate. 94% of people surveyed reported that they were separated from those that they usually live with in Venezuela, including nearly half who said they had been separated from children. This is approximately five times higher than typically seen in emergency contexts.

“Children are particularly vulnerable. 13% of people reported knowing Venezuelan children separated from their families, which spikes to 35% in the border town of Maicao. Sexual violence and drugs were most commonly reported as the biggest risk to children. Children were also reported to be vulnerable to gang recruitment and violence, as well as exploitation.

“Only a fifth of those surveyed had accessed any assistance in Colombia. Many Venezuelans lack information about the services available to them, leading more than a quarter of respondents not attempting to use health services available to them despite their overwhelming need. Just 14% of people surveyed had the Special Permit of Permanence (PEP), which is issued by the Government of Colombia and without which people are not able to access medical care and other basic services.”

Those in transit to another country said they were heading to Peru, Ecuador, Chile or Argentina. No respondents reported intending to travel to the United States. Of those transiting in a group of family or friends, over half had children among their group. 

Marianne Menijvar adds: “Although the Government of Colombia has extended extraordinary support to Venezuelans, IRC’s assessment has found conditions remain dire for many. As Venezuelans continue to flee, living standards are likely to worsen without a coherent and comprehensive regional response. Governments across South America as well as international donors must step up their support to prevent this crisis turning into a catastrophe. In Colombia, we call on the government to undertake a new round of PEP registration to enable vulnerable Venezuelans to access much needed basic services.”

Since April, the IRC has been working in Cucuta, supporting Venezuelans and vulnerable Colombians with specialized services for women and children, cash and health services. In the coming months we will be expanding our programs to support Venezuelans across the country.

More information on the IRC’s current response in Colombia here.

Full assessment can be downloaded here.

Photos from Bogota, Maicao and Barranquilla are available for use here.

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.