Fostering Local Communities Of Solidarity For Migrants And Refugees From Venezuela

UN-Habitat, IOM and UNHCR as United Nations Agencies with mandates regarding Human Settlements, Migration and Refugees protection are proposing this inter-agency project to reduce vulnerabilities of migrants and refugees and address the impact on host communities in order to design stable and durable solutions with medium and long-term vision in Latin America and the Caribbean communities.

As a result of the emerging crisis, more than 3 million Venezuelans now live out of the country, with the numbers of emigration growing strongly over recent months. While initially a majority had moved to the United States and Spain, this changed significantly with the growing number of persons leaving in 2017. At present (October 2018), more than 2.6 million have moved to Latin American neighboring countries (first and foremost Colombia with 1,174,000 migrants, but increasingly also Peru with 506,156, and Ecuador 221,000. In Colombia, this also includes 300,000 Colombian returnees who had fled violence in Colombia, as well as numerous families of mixed Venezuelan and Colombian nationality. The legal status of Venezuelans varies across and within the countries in the region, which can determine their rights to work and to access basic services.

As a consequence, migration is placing significant pressures on institutions, service provision systems, the labor market and the social dynamics of the receiving cities. These include: (i) the greater demand for articulation, coordination and response capacities of national and local institutions; (ii) the overflow of demand for services such as health, housing, education, social protection and water and sanitation, among others; (iii) the accelerated increase in the demand for work, which affects employment levels, quality and salaries; and (iv) the outcrop of tensions between the local population and migrants, explained by the greater competition for already scarce resources.

The situation is still very much in evolution, and decisions in one country (e.g. Ecuador with the introduction of a visa requirement or changes in residence permit) have shown repercussions in overall movements. A large number of Venezuelans also transit through Colombia to Ecuador and Peru (which now both also host a large number of Venezuelans) and further South. Given their proximity, islands in the Caribbean continue to attract Venezuelans. In all recipient countries, urban centers are attracting most Venezuelans, offering greater economic opportunities.

Latin America distinguishes itself by a very progressive framework towards human mobility including asylum. Numerous agreements on free movement, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration (translated into legislation of 15 countries in the region), the 2002 Mercosur Residence Agreement, several Andean Community normative instruments (“Decisiones”) and the 2014 Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action are an expression of the region’s leadership in fostering regional and integrated responses to migration and asylum. At a stocktaking of the Brazil Plan of Action in February 2018, States issued the so-called 100 points of Brasilia, contributing to the consultations on the Global Compact on Refugees. In it, States reiterated their “commitment to regional solidarity, south-south cooperation and shared responsibility to find effective and predictable responses to the humanitarian needs of displaced persons, asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons”. Many of the good practices highlighted relate to local integration. The important role of local authorities is also recognized.

While more persons are entitled to protection under the 1984 Cartagena declaration and the 1951 Convention Relating to the on Status of Refugees, a limited number have filed asylum claims (e.g. in Peru, 150,270  out of more than 365,924 by 31 October 2018). On the basis of general migration legislation or special measures, countries in the region have already issued more than 1 million temporary and permanent residence permits between 2015 and 2018. Both refugee and other residence permits generally guarantee the right to work, health and education, freedom of movement, and the right to start a business and the possibility to access social protection schemes. However, some Venezuelans lack regular status, and access to passports or other documents in Venezuela and abroad is extremely difficult.

The EU has been at the forefront of pushing forward comprehensive, development-led responses to forced displacement, its approach set out in the 2016 communication "Lives in Dignity" and confirmed in the new European Consensus on Development. The EU thus supports a large number of host countries worldwide in fostering the socio-economic inclusion of forcibly displaced persons and resilience of host communities. The present action would foster the new approach in the Americas. As regards local actors, the Communication stressed: “Close cooperation with local authorities as well as longer-term investment in their response capacity is crucial to ensure local ownership and the sustainability of the response. The most innovative approaches are developed at this level, such as cooperation between cities to boost capacity in areas like urban planning, local economic development and service delivery.”

Moreover, Council Conclusions of June 2018 on EU Cooperation with Cities and Local Authorities in Third Countries recognised the relevance of urban settings and urban challenges in humanitarian crises, and the need for sound humanitarian and development approaches linking sustainable development solutions, urban planning and resilience. The Conclusions provide the policy framework for reinforced dialogue with local authorities and other urban actors (planners, etc.) in crisis and disaster preparedness contexts, and the mainstreaming of vulnerable groups in EU support to cities and local authorities.

The action also builds on UNHCR experience with the Cities of Solidarity initiative (CoS) contained in the 2004 Mexico Declaration and Plan of Action. CoS recognizes the centrality of cities "to provide effective protection which encompasses enjoyment of social, economic and cultural rights and observance of the obligations of refugees". Cities of Solidarity also “aim at facilitating the implementation of public policies, within an integrated social strategy".

The action is also linked to IOM’s Migration Governance Framework (MiGOF) developed to help define what “well-managed migration policy” might look like at the national level. To help operationalize the MiGOF, the Migration Governance Indicators (MGI) were developed as a tool based on policy inputs, which offers insights on policy levers that countries can use to develop their migration governance. The MGI seeks to help countries in the assessment of the comprehensiveness of their migration policies, as well as to identify gaps and areas that could be strengthened. The MGI which is currently being piloted at the city level in Montreal (Canada), Sao Paulo (Brazil) and Accra (Ghana), aims to advance conversations on migration governance by clarifying what “well-governed migration” might look like in the context of SDG Target 10.7.

UN-Habitat is committed to the daily involvement of urban dwellers in the development decisions and planning outcomes that affect their daily lives. In this case, the host communities and migrants.  The fresh and innovative notion of prosperity developed by UN-Habitat, that will be applied in this project, raises a vision of sustainable urban development in which the fight against exclusion and the rights of a few, does not limit the possibility that prosperity will be shared by all. The integration of tangible and intangible values ??inherent to this vision of shared prosperity is essential for the respect of the Rights of women, children, the elderly and all kinds of minorities, which in many cities today suffer in different ways of exclusion. Also, UN Habitat have experience on inclusive cities, inclusive urban policy processes, migration related projects in the Mediterranean and the Arab Regions and projects on sustainable planning solutions for shelter / camps (in Africa and Asia) as well as urban crisis situations (Iraq, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Ethiopia...) which have promoted benefits for migrant/refugees, IDPs and host communities.

Finally, the action is articulated and complemented with the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP) launched on December 14th 2018 and developed by the Platform for Inter-institutional Coordination for Refugees and Migrants of Venezuela to meet the needs of 2.2 million refugees and migrants in 16 countries. Its main objective is to coordinate the response to the needs of refugees, migrants, returnees and host populations, in a complementary manner with the Government. The RMRP is a coordinated operational response among 95 partners in order to generate complements and synergies in the field work that directly benefits migrants, the host populations and the authorities. The specific objectives of the platform are: a) To serve as a coordination space for its members with the purpose of facilitating a joint operational response that supports the efforts of the Colombian state, based on the rights of those in need of international protection and the migrant population; b) Seek to ensure that refugees and migrants have equality in access to services and available humanitarian resources without discrimination or distinction of age, gender and diversity; and c), Advocate for the principles of humanitarian protection with a focus on rights, at an individual and community level, to promote positive and constructive relations with host communities.

In the problem analysis, it is important to distinguish short-term from medium-term challenges in an evolving situation. Countries hosting Venezuelans in the region are mostly upper middle-income countries and in line with the Agenda for Change, EU bilateral cooperation has already been or will be phased out.

Nevertheless, in a short-term perspective, the large-scale arrival of Venezuelans has overwhelmed local and to some extent national response capacity. An increase in demand has caused pressure on provision of basic services, notably education and health, and the identification of particular vulnerabilities, such as those related to human trafficking and exploitation. Xenophobic incidents are on the rise.

Taking a medium term perspective, it is likely that a significant number of Venezuelans will continue to leave their country in 2019 considering the expected further degradation of the economic situation, as hyperinflation and recession are expected to continue. While the establishment of diaspora networks will facilitate movements, those with greatest mobility will have already left and some lack resources to move beyond the area of immediate arrival. At the same time, as set out above, most Venezuelans leave their areas of immediate arrival in order to move to other countries, and within these countries, to urban centers in the hope of greater economic opportunities. This might not only include capital cities, but also secondary and smaller urban centers. Host community reactions also affect the decision for onward movements.

The attention of Venezuelan migrants and refugees, especially with a vocation for permanence, presents some challenges to cities of neighboring countries:

•              Physical and environmental challenges associated with immediate greater pressure on infrastructure, access to shelter and housing, and basic services. And mid-term affections to the affordability of the housing sector, over demand of public transport systems, greater demand for urban land, public space and social facilities such as schools and health facilities, and negative consequences on the environment caused by a lack of urban management decisions and inadequate response to resource depletion and waste management.

•              Socio-economic challenges derived from the increase in the urban population. When root causes and local governments fail to response to the immediate needs of these vulnerable groups, unemployment and thus poverty rates tend to rise among the migrant groups and employment markets tend to transform into informal and or oftentimes illegal jobs, as well as a sense of competition between host and migrant communities over job opportunities (particularly seasonal and informal jobs);

•              Fiscal challenges due to pressures in the municipal budgets and the inability of many local authorities to raise their own funds to deal effectively with urban problems, as well as the lack of subsidiarity principles existing in highly centralized Latin American countries where local authorities lack power and responsibilities over such matters;

•              Urban governance and management challenges linked to centralized decision-making and local institutions that do not have sufficient tools and resources to manage the growth of the city and maintain urban security and social cohesion.

The aforementioned challenges occur naturally within cities, reflective also of the fact that Latin America is already the world’s most urbanized continent with more than 80% of the population living in cities. However, this also represents a big opportunity to address the situation and improve reception agreements that offer adequate legal protection and services delivery, such as basic sanitation and services related to their short, medium, and eventually long-term needs. International experience in large-scale migration suggests that, even when migration may represent challenges in the short term, its proper management can create economic growth in the medium and long term.

Region: South America
Donors: European Union
Theme: Urban development and management, Research/scientific institutions, Housing policy and administrative management
Project Timeline
End Date: 16th August 2023
Start Date: 5th September 2019
Budget Utilisation
Budget: $6,791,370
Expenditure: $2,739,430
Outputs / Results

1. Strengthened host communities’ acceptance and economic and social inclusion of vulnerable migrant and refugee populations in host communities.

2. Migrants and refugees’ populations are better protected and have improved access to documentation, orientation and basic rights.

Reduce vulnerabilities of migrants and refugees and address the impact on host communities