By the end of 2020, which is just mere days away, Guyana will have 28,000 Venezuelan refugees in its midst. And by the end of 2021, this number is expected to grow by 5000. Making this known is ReliefWeb, an information service provided by the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In light of the growing Venezuelan population here, the United Nations Office said there are common protection concerns which include the risk of gender-based violence, sexual/labour exploitation, lack of livelihood opportunities, language barriers hampering access to public services, and the lack of safe and dignified shelter. It said that these vulnerabilities have been accentuated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its socio-economic impacts, which have left Venezuelans with limited livelihood options, prompted evictions and discrimination, and increased the need for assistance.
Although Venezuelans can access public education and emergency and primary healthcare regardless of legal status, the UN office was keen to note that they face challenges in accessing basic services including shelter, particularly in the hinterland and border regions. For schooling, it said that administrative or practical barriers to enrolment place families with irregular status or limited financial means at a disadvantage, while needs persist regarding secondary, tertiary and specialized healthcare.
It was further noted that hinterland communities and indigenous populations are also affected by higher prices and limited availability of food items, a situation aggravated by COVID-19. Owing to school closures, the UN office said that many children lost access to school meal programmes, while international partners here estimate that 40 percent of the refugee and migrant population is experiencing acute food insecurity. Additionally, access to safe, potable water and sanitation services and facilities pose challenges, particularly for indigenous communities who cannot afford these services.
The United Nations Office is hopeful that the country would be able to withstand the pressures the foregoing challenges will continue to bring even as it battles to implement further safeguards against the pandemic.