Humanity & Inclusion is preparing to launch a possible emergency response to aid Venezuelan refugees in Colombia. Venezuela has been experiencing economic, political, and social turmoil since 2013. At least 3.4 million Venezuelans have fled the country. More than one million Venezuelans have taken refuge in Colombia, according to the United Nations.
Present in Colombia since 1998, HI assessed the needs of migrants in La Guajira, a border town in northern Colombia. In conjunction with partner organizations DRC and Pastoral Social (Caritas Colombia), HI is hoping to launch the following activities:
- Psychological support to help migrants overcome trauma
- Rehabilitation for people with disabilities, older people, and other vulnerable populations
- Training in support of local rehabilitation organizations
- Peace building between communities
These activities would be carried out in the areas of La Guajira, Arauca, Atlántico, and Vichada, Colombia. HI is also monitoring the situation in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru.
Venezuelan refugees in Colombia are in need of significant support and aid. Humanity & Inclusion teams are mapping out our emergency response options.
Venezuela has been confronted by a serious economic, political and social crisis since 2013. This has caused at least 3.4 million Venezuelans to flee, with 2.7 million have relocated to other Latin American and Caribbean countries, with one million refugees seeking refuge in Colombia, according to the United Nations. In just the past few months, the crisis has forced tens of thousands of Venezuelans to flee to neighboring countries.
Humanity & Inclusion has worked in Colombia since 1998. In 2017, teams assessed the needs of Venezuelans located in Cucuta, Colombia. In November 2018, Humanity & Inclusion assessed the needs of migrants in La Guajira, a crossing point in northern Colombia, in conjunction with the NGO Danish Refugee Council (DRC).
The organization is currently preparing for the possible launch of an emergency response, in conjunction with DRC and Pastoral Social (Caritas Colombia), which would include the following activities:
- psychosocial support to help Venezuelan migrants overcome their traumas
- rehabilitation care for people with disabilities, older people, indigenous people or any individual in a situation of vulnerability.
- technical support (training, etc.) to local rehabilitation organizations so they can take care of refugees and migrants in need
- promoting social cohesion and peaceful coexistence between different communities
These activities would be carried out in the areas of La Guajira, Arauca, Atlántico (Baranquilla) and Vichada (Puerto Carreno). Humanity & Inclusion would then aim to operate in urban areas (Bogota, Medellín, Cali).
Humanity & Inclusion is also monitoring the situation in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.
Vladan Nikolic, Program Support Officer for Humanity & Inclusion, is just home from visiting an important demining project in Colombia that's funded by the U.S. Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. He visited a mine field, and saw the full spectrum of HI's work to protect civilians living near landmines. While there, a deminer at another site was stung by a scorpion. Later that day, a team deployed to clear a suspected landmine along a schoolyard path. Scroll down to see what it was! As he puts it, "even heroes have bad days." Here are some of his trip highlights:
Aderito Ismael, head of Humanity & Inclusion's demining operations in Colombia, and previously of our work in Mozambique, delivers a briefing on the technical aspects of demining. He explained how each demining team stakes out the locations they'll clear, and the colors they use to communicate what they're doing and how to stay safe.
Our team met with Gloria, a beneficiary whose husband died ten years ago when he stepped on an explosive. Her five-year-old son at the time was injured in the accident. Since then, he's had 17 surgeries and continues to struggle with his sight and hearing. Our team is providing him with care, including help earning a living.
Here, we're traveling across one of many rivers from the main office to a demining camp. Lucky for me, it's the end of Colombia's rainy season, so we could actually cross this portion of the river!
Alongside members of a local farming community, I attended a risk education session led by an HI community liaison officer. The community learned about the dangers of explosive remnants of war, and how to spot, avoid, and report any weapons they may find.
The tire from a toy truck was flipped upside down and filled with mud. As you can see, it really does look like a mine! But we were so relieved when we found out it wasn't a deadly explosive on a path heavily traveled by children.
PS - NPR's Jason Beaubien traveled to Colombia in September 2017, where he met up with HI's demining team. His report explains how HI demines, and what the team found packed in a baby food jar. Listen in!
On the International Day for Mine Awareness, Humanity & Inclusion warns that civilians cannot continue to bear the brunt of global conflicts, with casualty rates rising drastically worldwide.Read more
Five years ago, while Xiemna, 33, was putting her son to bed, a grenade was thrown into her home in Colombia drastically changing her life within seconds. On that day, she lost both of her children and sustained serious injures. With support from Humanity & Inclusion, she has been given psychological support and has now set up her own homemade yogurt business. Xiemna and her husband, Armando tell their story:Read more
In launching mine clearance operations earlier this year in Colombia, Handicap International teams conducted initial surveys to pinpoint hazardous areas throughout the country. Following the results, HI deployed a team of ten deminers to Venta, which is in the Cauca department, for a 45-day operation.Read more
“I was on the bus on my way home from school,” José explains. “I felt a sharp pain in my leg and wanted to get up to run away, but couldn’t.” In 2000, then 18-year-old José lost his right leg in a mine accident in Colombia.
During that time, he lived with his mother on a farm in the Cauca region. “We had a small pig farm and grew coriander which provided enough for us to live on,” José continues. “During the week, I went to school and in the evenings and weekends, I worked.
“The Cauca region was very severely affected by the conflict that ripped Colombia apart for almost fifty years. After the fighting, explosive remnants of war were often left strewn along the roadside, clearly visible and likely to be triggered at any moment. I’ve wondered, how many times did we disturb mines in the river with our feet? I have terrible memories of this period: the image of children enrolled in the armed groups, parading with their rifles. Horrible.
José explains that having his leg amputated was the beginning of a very painful period. "I lost everything. My leg. My job. My future career. I had to give up on my hopes. Everything was ruined.
“Then I met Handicap International.” After receiving a new artificial leg, Handicap International and partner organization, Teirra de Paz gave hope back to José. “They made it possible for me to receive rehabilitation care to learn how to use my prosthesis, and gave me psychological support.
“They also provided me with legal assistance which allowed me to obtain a small pension. The financial support I received allowed me to take up my studies again, and find a new job, a leader in the Cauca Mine Victims Foundation.
“The assistance Handicap International gave me was vital for me and my future. Today, I am walking again. I have an income, I know my rights, and I want to encourage my son to move forward with his life.
"Thanks to Handicap International's mine clearance work we will be able to move around freely again. Colombia is a large, mountainous country that has been devastated by the war. It will take a long time to free the country of mines. But we will get there, eventually."
COLOMBIA: ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST DENSELY MINED COUNTRIES
As part of the new peace agreements between the government and Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), the Colombian government granted Handicap International full authorization in May 2016 to conduct mine clearance operations in three of the country’s regions. Handicap International has since launched a five-year mine clearance operation, with a specific focus on indigenous land, in the regions of Cauca, Meta, and Caquetá. Learn more about our work in Colombia.
"One day, when I was 24 years old, I was with my uncle and we found a long tube,” Freddy explains. “I tapped it with a hammer and it exploded, seriously injuring my hand.” Freddy, along with his wife and daughter lived in the countryside, in the Vereda La Primavera region of Colombia. Members of the Nasa indigenous community, Freddy and his wife cooked on open fires and used water from the river.
Freddy worked on the coffee, yucca, and corn plantations, alongside other members of his community. And although the country’s 50 years of armed conflict recently came to an end, that doesn’t keep people from living in fear. “We’re constantly looking over our shoulders. In the wake of the conflict that ripped our country apart for years, the ground is littered with explosive remnants of war. We didn’t know what they were.”
Mines and explosive remnants of war contaminate 31 of Colombia's 32 regions. Since 1990, the use of improvised explosive devices has become systematic, generating more than 11,100 casualties, among the injured: Freddy.
On that dark day, Freddy had two of his fingers amputated. “The accident destroyed me,” he says. “I suffered a series of disasters. I started drinking, my wife left me, and I lost my father. I was no longer able to work the land. It was a very dark time.”
Freddy says he restored hope when he met Handicap International: "I have the courage to carry on. I received help with my health issues as well as psychological support. The organization helped me get involved with defending the rights of the indigenous communities, which are victims of the conflict.
“First, I became an accountant, then, an advisor for the organization. I also received financial support that allowed me to start up a small chicken breeding business. I have other plans, including recording a second album of music.
“Without the support of Handicap International, I would never have had the courage to carry on with life, never mind developing my projects. Our rights have been trampled, but we are survivors. There is a brighter future ahead."
COLOMBIA: ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST DENSELY MINED COUNTRIES
As part of the new peace agreements between the government and Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), the Colombian government granted Handicap International full authorization in 2016 to conduct mine clearance operations in three of the country’s regions. Handicap International has since launched a five-year mine clearance operation, with a specific focus on indigenous land, in the regions of Cauca, Meta, and Caquetá. Learn more about our work in Colombia.
“I didn’t know what it was,” Jemerson explains of the mine he found on the road in May 2015. He was ten, and he and his two cousins were heading to a farm to gather mandarins. “It was an accident. I picked it up with my right hand, then my left hand, and it exploded.”Read more