Venezuela is a forgotten country

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The north coast of Colombia - the first port of call for many refugees

Since President Maduro took office in 2013, 3.6 million people have fled Venezuela. That's about as many people as Berlin has inhabitants. Many of the refugees find refuge in La Guajira, a department in northern Colombia right on the border with Venezuela. It is one of the poorest regions in the country without adequate food, drinking water and medical care.

To contain COVID-19, Colombia's government has imposed one of the toughest and longest lockdowns in the world. As a result, income opportunities were lost and government funds to support Venezuelans were cut. As a result, the previously tense situation for many of the refugees has worsened. Those who were able to earn small amounts of money in the informal sector, for example by selling coffee or sweets on the street, lost these sources of income. Crime, hunger, malnutrition and disease are other consequences.

Malteser International provides reliable support despite COVID-19 obstacles

Malteser International has been campaigning for the refugees in the La Guajira and Magdalena departments since 2018, taking care of malnourished children, newborns and pregnant women and supporting them with donations in kind. In addition, medical examinations and psychological counseling are carried out and medicines are given out. The Foreign Office is supporting Malteser International in this work with a total of 2.5 million euros.

The general desperation is clearly noticeable, reports Jelena Kaifenheim, who is responsible for the project at Malteser International. She also noted that hardly any private donations were received for the refugees because the media rarely reported on the crisis. Single mothers are particularly important to her. In the current situation, they are under enormous pressure as it has become even more difficult to care for their children.

Several aid organizations have withdrawn from the region due to difficult working conditions. Malteser International is now looking after even more Venezuelan pregnant women and newborns who were previously cared for by other aid organizations. The Maltese also offer their medical service on a mobile basis in compliance with the hygiene measures required for COVID-19. For example, over 5,000 examinations were carried out between January and August 2020 alone. The Federal Foreign Office's funds were further increased after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thiannys is born

It is the concrete moments that are particularly touching and illustrate the value of the work of the Maltese for the local people. On September 25, 2020, the neighbors of Zuleidys ran excitedly to the Malteser International location and asked for help. The Venezuelan Zuleidys was in labor with her mother at home. The Maltese mobile medical team in Santa Marta went out and helped Zuleidys give birth to their son Thiannys healthy. The team then took on the medical follow-up care for the newborn.

This makes Thiannys one of over 90 children who were able to receive medical care from the Maltese after giving birth in 2020, and Zuleidys is one of over 500 pregnant women who received support during childbirth. Leynis Pachero, one of the women in care, is hopeful and grateful: "Life in Colombia is not easy, but it gets better every day".

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Many humanitarian crises are not in the public eye, but rather take place hidden from the eyes of the world public. As a result, the people affected do not receive enough support. The European Commission's Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) identifies these forgotten crises through the annual “Forgotten Crisis Assessment”. In 2020, 15 crises are on the list. In our series on forgotten crises, we introduce these countries and crises.