GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency warns some 1.5 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants face extreme risks and hardships during the winter season in the southern region of South America. The UNHCR reports six countries of asylum - Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay - are overstretched and unable to help the Venezuelans.
Life has not been easy for the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants who have fled political oppression and economic misery in Venezuela. But the U.N. refugee agency fears their plight will increase during the harsh, bitterly cold winter season.
Added to this mix of inclement weather is COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo notes Latin America now is the new epicenter of the pandemic. She says the health and economic consequences will have a profound impact on displaced Venezuelans in the region.
"In addition to health risks, COVID-related lockdowns and confinement measures have already resulted in severe hardship for Venezuelans in those countries," she said. "Many have now lost their livelihoods and are faced with poverty, destitution, eviction, widespread hunger and food insecurity as well as increased protection risks."
Mantoo says this humanitarian crisis will deepen as temperatures drop. She says the Venezuelans, most of whom are living in rented accommodations, often lack fuel to heat their homes. Mantoo also says they need blankets, warm clothing and medicine.
She says many who fall ill with respiratory diseases, such as influenza, in the six countries of asylum will not be able to get the treatment they need.
"As national capacities are stretched to breaking point, access to public health services and timely medical care is also a challenge, especially for those in irregular situations," she said. "Shelter, food, and hygiene kits, as well as cash assistance are already critically needed for many vulnerable Venezuelans who are living in precarious conditions and who are at risk of becoming homeless or living on the streets in exile."
The UNHCR is stepping up its response to this crisis. Together with partners, the agency is providing emergency shelters, rental subsidies and other material relief. It also is providing essential health care and cash assistance to refugees and migrants who are particularly vulnerable.