Following Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's re-election in May, thousands of desperate Venezuelans continue to enter Colombia, fleeing the economic meltdown in their country. Venezuela is currently reeling from widespread food and medicine shortages as well as soaring inflation (predicted to reach 14,000% this year). The cost of basic groceries is now about five times the minimum wage.
“For many Venezuelans, hopes of an improvement in their country’s economy have faded with the re-election of President Maduro,” said Jelena Kaifenheim, Malteser International's Program Coordinator for Latin America. “There is currently no end in sight to the crisis which has spurred one of the largest migration flows in recent Latin American history,” she added.
Around a million Venezuelans have now fled to Colombia – a country struggling with its own political issues. On May 27th, Colombians voted in the first presidential election since the 2016 peace agreement that ended more than 50 years of armed conflict between the government and the FARC guerilla group. However, the results of the election could have a significant impact on the historic peace deal. Conservative candidate Iván Duque, a critic of the deal, won the first round of voting but fell short of the 50% required to win the elections. A run-off will be held in June 2018. Duque has pledged to revise some aspects of the peace deal if he is elected president. Experts now fear for the future of the peace agreement. This also complicates the work of aid organizations in the country.
“As long as there is no new government in place and peace with guerilla groups is not guaranteed, the security situation in several parts of the country will continue to deteriorate,” said Kaifenheim. “Armed criminal groups are already exploiting the vacuum created by the lack of government presence in many areas. In La Guajira, where we work, there have been reports of violent occurrences. For this reason, we are continually organizing trainings in safety and security for our employees and local partners to help them respond to any security emergency that might arise.”
Malteser International has been working with local officials since March 2018 to provide basic medical services for refugees in Riohacha and in neighboring villages in the department of La Guajira. Mobile health teams are also providing medical care, distributing hygiene materials, and carrying out vaccinations. Undernourished children and pregnant women also receive food assistance.
Malteser International has been working in close cooperation with the local association of the Order of Malta in Colombia for about three years. Its work is focused on rural development and improving access to healthcare for the local population.
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