May 2020 - Latin America & the Caribbean

Refugees and migrants from Venezuela during COVID-19 crisis

RET’s COVID-19 Regional Response in Latin America and the Caribbean

RET has been present in the Latin America and the Caribbean region, since 2004, and has directly supported more than 717,000 direct project participants, and indirectly benefitted 3.6 Mio beneficiaries throughout 179 projects implemented predominantly in Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, and Peru. Since 2016, RET’s responses were centered on one of the most severe humanitarian crises in LAC, the Venezuelan crisis. It is estimated that approximately 4.3 million refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers fled the violence, poverty, and food and medicine shortages in Venezuela. The instability in the country generated a significant migratory flow. The vast majority of Venezuelan refugees have found asylum predominantly in neighboring countries within the region. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is overstretching healthcare systems and restricting access to basic needs, education, and livelihoods. Countries with pre-existing humanitarian needs, in fragile contexts, and protracted crises are the most affected, including the vulnerable Venezuelan communities scattered around the region. Due to restricted mobility, the poor living & working conditions where many vulnerable Venezuelans depend on insufficient daily wages to cover basic needs such as shelter, food, and health care, Venezuelans are becoming more susceptible to the deteriorating impact of COVID-19. Venezuelan refugees and migrants are also at risk of being stigmatized. This pandemic is aggravating the socio-economic unrest, leading to additional violence, conflicts, and the weakening of already fragile environments.

How is RET Staying & Delivering 
RET has been conducting multiple needs assessment to understand the impact of this crisis on the most vulnerable in every country of operation, including the deteriorating effects on Venezuelan refugees and migrants. RET has been gathering information and timely data to adapt and respond through innovative urgent actions to mitigate the existing and additional protection risks of vulnerable people assisted through ongoing operations. RET’s response in LAC prioritized refugees’ and migrants’ particular needs in the areas of Protection, Shelter, WASH, Food Security, Livelihoods and, Social Integration through targeted and tailor-made interventions to complement the national authorities’ response. 

RET has been coordinating its responses with grassroots organizations, Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s), and with the Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform (Response for Venezuelans-R4V) to prioritize essential protection and pre-existing life-saving needs to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable Venezuelans and the host communities, and has been taking part in promoting the inclusion of refugees and migrants in national programs. 

Awareness & Prevention 
While maintaining physical distancing measures, RET is implementing many prevention and response activities in countries of operation where refugees and migrants from Venezuela are hosted. These activities include providing access to reliable information on preventive measures, combatting misinformation and stigmatization, provision of hygiene kits, and soap, strengthening of community preventive health mechanisms through virtual workshops for key people at the community levels on preventive measures, response, and isolation mechanisms; access to safety equipment for health personnel; strengthening referral and follow-up mechanisms for COVID-19 cases in health centers at the local level and the delivery of sexual and reproductive health kits (condoms, flashlight, prevention information) and of PEP kits to health centers.

Protection (Women and Child)
RET is ensuring the protection services provided to the affected people are not interrupted, and assuming its current role in providing access to social safety nets and basic assistance to women and children through the use of technology to protect and assist refugees, internally displaced people, migrants and host communities particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. Key protection activities, such as individual protection assistance, case management, legal counseling, and individual psychosocial support, continue to be delivered via phone and WhatsApp chats, ensuring the well-being and mental health of the most vulnerable. 

RET is actively taking part in the protection of women and girls and in promoting their rights and safety through awareness campaigns and protective networks to provide sexual and reproductive health care and gender-based violence assistance. RET has established virtual support groups and a follow-up mechanism to assist vulnerable women at risk of Gender-based violence and survivors of #GBV. 

Food Security -Shelter – Cash Assistance 
RET has reviewed all evaluation tools to characterize new families affected by COVID 19 and applied means of verification to assist the most vulnerable. To bridge the food security gap, RET has been providing “Food Baskets” and “multi-purpose vouchers” to the most vulnerable people registered within our programs in coordination with local supermarkets. Also, RET has been providing multi-purpose cash transfers for the most vulnerable families whose livelihoods have been affected by COVID-19 and enabling all-cash voucher programs available in each country (conditional and multi-purpose cash) for the purchase of food, shelter and hygiene products (including gloves and soap). RET has been supporting food entrepreneurs and small marked oriented businesses with the purchase of food and its distribution in line with the regulations per country in coordination with relief entities and volunteers. RET has also been identifying shelters and coordinating with international and local partners to support people in shelters. 

WASH 
RET has been providing the most vulnerable refugees and migrants with hygiene kits (soap, anti-bacterial gel, gloves, mask, alcohol) as well as providing cleaning kits and safety equipment for workers at health centers and hospitals. In addition to providing traditional water filters in communities with weak infrastructure, and conducting virtual training on handwashing, use of security equipment and on hygiene recommendations in work, home, and school environments. RET has been conducting assessments of water systems, and subsequent definition of a plan of action for the corrective maintenance of hygiene facilities (in communities and schools).

EDUCATION
RET has been redesigning ad re-orienting its efforts in line with local needs and in coordination with host government’s policies at the local level to provide innovative solutions to remote learning through redesigning all its formal and informal education programs to provide access to alternative distance learning programs. With 20 years of experience in education, particularly in “Education in Emergencies (EiE),” RET is providing tailor-made solutions at the local level to bridge the educational gaps, in the broadest sense of vulnerable people.

RET has been revising its entire education toolbox and is currently implementing actions to allow the continuity of the teaching-learning processes, also, strengthening of capacities on distance education models to facilitate the return to classes and maintain quality education.

RET’s latest actions in education focused on supporting the host governments with their COVID19 prevention campaigns, addressing children, parents, and caregivers and promoting non-formal digital education programs and virtual educational platforms established by the host governments; strengthening of alternative virtual education spaces; developing guides for caregivers with activities and educational processes; launching plans for the inclusion of migrant and refugee children in the educational system; supporting the access of students to connectivity, computers, laptops, tablets or smart-phones; in addition to supporting vulnerable students with internet data fees and or access. 

Social integration and Livelihoods. 
The social impact of the COVID 19 outbreak can already be visible in many countries in LAC with a high number of refugees, migrants, and displaced people through the decrease of cohesion, a greater potential for conflict, and deepening inequalities. 

RET’s responses are being oriented to address the indirect effect of COVID-19 on social cohesion and integration in Latin America and the Caribbean; including addressing the risks of violence, discrimination, marginalization, and xenophobia towards the most vulnerable, especially the Venezuelan refugees through virtual tools such as webinars, Social networks, virtual social cohesion activities and interactive sessions at the community level. As part of its livelihood programs, RET is providing online support to increase the employability profiles of vulnerable people. (CV & job applications), along with tackling youth protection and mental health through social media awareness campaigns about health, education, housing, and work, in times of COVID-19.

During these challenging COVID19 times and in only three months, RET provided assistance and support to almost 18,000 refugees, migrants, and vulnerable people from the host community in Latin America and the Caribbean region alone. This is how the RET team is #Staying&Delivering.

RET is adopting an inclusive, multi-sectoral approach to alleviate the suffering and develop the resilience of the most affected, with particular attention to children, youth, and young women. RET will continue to provide its existing humanitarian, peace, development assistance while expanding its existent multi-sectoral response to address the new vulnerabilities in terms of COVID-19. 

While RET hires 100% local staff, in most countries, and can, therefore, stay on the ground, and continue its programs uninterrupted during any crises. RET’s international management team are usually based in regional and headquarters office, and travel for technical capacity-building purposes, which during COVID-19, is happening online and through videoconferencing.

The battle is not yet over; we appeal to all governments, donors, and partners to maintain their support to RET programs around the world and to foster our multi-sectoral response to assist the most vulnerable. With international solidarity, we will mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the most affected, during, and following this emergency.

Updated, May 25th, 2020