Hope For Venezuelan Refugees Project
By U4C Team
Approximately five million refugees and migrants have left Venezuela as a result of the political turmoil, socio-economic instability and the ongoing humanitarian crisis – triggering the largest external displacement crisis in Latin America’s recent history. – OIM (Organization International Migration)
U4C has partnered with Hope For Venezuelan Refugees Project, led by Cristal Montanez Baylor, to support Venezuelan refugees in Colombia. Cristal is a humanitarian, a former Miss Venezuela, who has been working in development and women empowerment for many years. She has personally committed to her country and has been actively involved in defending Venezuelan’s human, political, and civil rights since 2002.
Venezuelans continue to struggle to survive in a country suffering the worst political and economic crisis in history. The shortage of food and medicine, lack of essential services such as electricity, water, propane gas, and vehicular gasoline, and the hospital system is collapsed. The unprecedented monthly minimum wage of 1.61 USD per month is not enough for a family to buy 2 pounds of meat or a carton of eggs. The unemployment rate is 35.5 percent and 6.5 thousand percent inflation rate, as reported by the International Monetary Fund in October 2020, the majority of Venezuelans live in extreme poverty and misery.
This complex crisis has forced 1 in 7 Venezuelans to abandon their homeland for neighboring countries like Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, and the U.S. The outcome of this crisis is the most significant refugee exodus in Latin American’s history and the Western Hemisphere. Colombia hosts the largest number of refugees and migrants, with nearly 1.8 million and 500,000 Colombian returnees. Children and the elderly along with the sick are the most affected by the Venezuelan complex humanitarian crisis, and every day more die from causes related to hunger, malnutrition, and disease.
According to the United Nations (UN), close to 5.1 million refugees and migrants have left Venezuela, with more than 80 percent of them now across Latin America and the Caribbean. 
In April 2020, Phase 3 of the project was initiated to respond to the emergency crisis created by the COVID-19 global pandemic. As the number of COVID-19 cases increased in Colombia and other neighboring countries, the number of displaced Venezuelans who lost their income source and were evicted from their homes increased significantly.
About 100,000 Venezuelans opted to return to the country during the pandemic caused by COVID-19, and faced the devastating decision between becoming homeless or attempt the dangerous journey back to Venezuela despite border restrictions and increased risks. Meanwhile, more and more Venezuelans continue to flee Venezuela to escape violence, persecution, lack of work, food, and essential services.
Venezuelan refugees, migrants, walkers, and Colombian returnees have urgent humanitarian needs. The shelters of the Humanitarian Network (Red Humanitaria) are closed following the protection measures and protocols imposed by the Colombian government to prevent the spread of COVID-19, leaving the region unattended. With nowhere to go, limited access to necessary food and essential services, Venezuelan migrants face the tragic reality of life as refugees. The region’s growing food insecurity seriously affects refugees, Venezuelan migrants, Colombian returnees, and the most vulnerable communities.
As part of the efforts to prevent the propagation of COVID-19 and respond to food insecurity, Cristal and her team provided PPE, face masks, cleaning, and disinfectant supplies to the food distribution centers and shelters. The volunteers have distributed more than 40,000 meals to the refugees and migrants, and food bags to local vulnerable families sponsored by the Rotary Club of Chanhassen, Rotary Club of Cúcuta, Rotary e-Club of Houston, and individuals. On September 14, 2020, Phase 4 of Project was launched in partnership with Rise Against Hunger, Rotary Club of Cúcuta, Rotary e-Club of Houston, allied organizations, and coordinators and volunteers of the selected food distribution centers. During Phase 4, the Hope For Venezuelan refugees team will continue to provide food commodities, cleaning, disinfectant, and PPE supplies to the selected food distribution centers and shelters to help respond to food insecurity and COVID-19 efforts.
U4C has been in the city of Cúcuta and witnessed the devastation of this refugee crisis. U4C is proud to be part of this humanitarian effort!
"I won’t ever move from Quime," says Susana Valdez. She was born more than 50 years ago in the community of Quime - Inquisivi Province (La Paz-Bolivia). She grew up in a community with many, many challenges including a lack of even the most basic opportunities for...