The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has implemented health and protection programming in both Venezuela and Colombia, aimed at strengthening access to primary healthcare facilities, including sexual and reproductive services, as well as improving protection and response initiatives to prevention of gender-based violence. Through funding from the European Union (EU), the program aims to address the most pressing needs of children, women and men who have been most affected by the Venezuelan crisis and are at high risk of developing serious health issues, including negative coping mechanisms and decreased mental wellbeing as a result of stress. The EU is supporting these services through a  total contribution of more than 2.1 million euros.

Since 2014, violence, hunger and economic destitution have led to 5.4 million Venezuelansleaving the country, amounting to about 20% of its total population. About 94% of the population lives in poverty, facing a lack of adequate living standards and a breakdown of public and health services. Faced with these challenges, many Venezuelans have departed to neighbouring countries such as Colombia, which currently hosts 1.8 million arrivals. Despite its efforts to welcome the increasing influx of Venezuelans, Colombia is experiencing a lack of capacity and resources to cover their needs, while struggling with its own challenges. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent response by the Colombian government, Venezuelans living in Colombia face urgent challenges such as unemployment, food insecurity and malnutrition.

Funding from the EU has enabled the IRC to reach more than 37,000 people with an integrated health and protection program. Health activities cover primary, sexual, maternal, and reproductive health care services, as well as a response to COVID-19, including a telemedicine call center and mobile clinics. To date, more than 29,000 people have been assisted with direct programming in Colombia and almost 8,000 through local partners in Venezuela. 

Among the total people assisted by the IRC with EU funding, more than 7,400 women and girls have been reached through the protection component, with initiatives to raise awareness, support and protect them from gender-based violence. 

Marianne Menjivar, the IRC’s Director for the Venezuela Crisis Response, said:

“The Venezuela crisis is the second largest mass displacement in the world and every day the needs of Venezuelans are growing, only exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, international funding and collaboration between governments, the private sector, and NGOs are critical. We need to work together to provide a timely and holistic response where Venezuelans need most: in their home country, but also in the places where they are arriving, including Colombia or even Ecuador.”

The IRC launched a temporary response in Colombia in 2000 and resumed operations in 2018 with the Venezuela Crisis Response, with direct programming in Colombia and working through local partners in Venezuela. Currently, the IRC is running programs aimed at addressing developmental challenges through a multitude of ways: protecting children and adolescents with psychosocial services and education, addressing gaps in healthcare infrastructure and increasing access to services by running mobile health clinics, supporting economic well-being by providing direct cash assistance, and empowering women and girls through developing prevention and response programs to gender-based violence.