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UN agencies begin registering asylum seekers at US-Mexico border

According to the agencies involved, an initial group could be allowed to enter the US this week, pending approval by authorities there. 

In a joint news release, the UN agencies said that the US and Mexican governments prioritized the Matamoros camp due to the difficult humanitarian conditions there.  

Other individuals with active MPP cases living outside the Matamoros camp will also be processed, they added. 

An estimated 25,000 applicants being processed in the US, were returned to Mexico under the policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). After the policy was terminated, a first group with active MPP cases entered the US on 19 February at the San Ysidro port of entry between Tijuana (Mexico) and San Diego (US). 

UN support 

The UN agencies involved in the exercise – the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – are conducting in-person registrations, ensuring humane treatment of children and their families, and carrying out COVID-19 tests. 

So far, no cases of COVID-19 have been detected. 

In coordination with US authorities, UNHCR launched a website on 19 February for people with active MPP cases to pre-register. About 12,000 people signed up in the first three days of operation. The website is supplemented by alternative registration channels including email, social media, and telephone. 

Similarly, in addition to conducting COVID-19 testing, IOM is coordinating transportation to the designated ports of entry. UNICEF is offering support for the most vulnerable child protection cases, and providing information to families and children. 

Similarly, partner organizations the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Mexican Red Cross are offering free telephone calls to allow asylum-seekers to maintain contact with their families before crossing into the US.  

Order determined by US authorities 

The UN agencies also noted that according to the new US policy, all persons with active cases under the MPP programme will be able to enter the country to continue their immigration proceedings and lodge asylum claims.  

They clarified that the dates and points of entry to the United States for persons who have already completed registration are determined by the US government. 

“All individuals who qualify will be processed based upon the order determined by the US and not based on the date when they pre-register with UNHCR using the website or the hotline”, they added. 

UN independent experts ‘appalled’ by deportation of migrants to Myanmar, in defiance of court order

Malaysian immigration authorities returned 1,086 migrants, including unaccompanied minors and toddlers as young as three, the UN experts said in a statement on Wednesday. 

In defiance of the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s order, the Malaysian authorities “breached the principle of non-refoulement, a rule of jus cogens, which absolutely prohibits the collective deportation of migrants without an objective risk assessment being conducted in each individual case”, they said.  

“Children should not have been separated from their family or returned without determining that their return is in their best interests”, they insisted. 

Unwelcome return 

Following a coup d’état in Myanmar on 1 February, which was followed by the military’s systematic violation of fundamental rights and freedoms, the UN experts expressed concern for the rights those returning. 

They upheld that identification processing and analysis of the migrants’ individual protection needs had not been adequately carried out. 

On grounds of their irregular migration status, the migrants had been held in Malaysia’s immigration detention facilities for prolonged periods.  

The Myanmar military regime had offered to send three navy ships to transport a total of 1,200 migrants. 

Concern over violations 

The UN experts raised their concerns in a letter to the Malaysian authorities, urging the absolute prohibition of refoulement to prevent the likely persecution of the returnees. 

They reminded that States are obliged not to repatriate a person to a country where there are substantial grounds to believe that he or she may be the victim of serious human rights violations. 

“The failure to ensure due process safeguards for all migrants, including through case-by-case risk assessments and adequate protection measures on an individual basis, heightened their vulnerabilities and risk of exploitation and other violations upon return”, they said.  

The experts also stressed that any migrant asked to be voluntarily returned must be “fully and meaningfully” informed of their choices and that their consent must be given “free of coercion”, including the threat of indefinite detention. 

The UN experts are encouraging the Malaysian authorities to conduct an adequate assessment of the remaining migrants and accord them the necessary protection, as required. 

They also said that they would continue to closely monitor the situation. 

Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. Their positions are honorary, they are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. 

Click here for the UN experts who signed this statement.  

British actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw named latest UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

Ms. Mbatha-Raw highlighted the need to support refugees during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to work in support of refugees and help amplify their voices. I am always amazed by their courage and strength in the face of such seemingly insurmountable odds and it’s a real honour to play a part in sharing their stories”, she said. 

“The Covid crisis has made us all aware of the fragility of the lives we build and the importance of doing all we can to support those who have had to leave the place they call home”, she added. 

“The crisis has also taught us that, in this interconnected world, we are only as strong as the most vulnerable in society. Inclusion of refugees is vital in ensuring the wellbeing of whole communities.” 

Advocacy and engagement 

Ms. Mbatha-Raw is no stranger to UNHCR as she has been working as a High-Profile Supporter for the agency since 2018. 

She has spent time in the field, including visiting Burundian and Congolese refugees in Rwanda and Uganda, meeting with women who survived conflict-related sexual violence and also with youth living with albinism. 

The new Goodwill Ambassador has also taken part in UNHCR’s EveryOneCounts campaign, challenging xenophobia and advocating for stronger partnerships to find solutions to global displacement.  

She also contributed to the agency’s COVID-19 awareness appeal and to Films of Hope, a partnership between UNHCR and IMDb, the online movie database, to raise funds for the Covid Solidarity Appeal. 

The partnership continues 

 “We appreciate Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s heartfelt advocacy and support for refugees and welcome her to the UNHCR family. We look forward to continuing our work together to help raise attention on the issues and needs facing refugees”, said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. 

“Now more than ever, in the context of the unprecedented impact of the COVID pandemic, the voices of refugees – some of the most marginalized and forgotten people on earth – need to be heard and amplified”. 

© UNHCR/Caroline Irby
Gugu Mbatha-Raw (centre) sits with a refugee at a women’s centre in the Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda in 2019.

Ms. Mbatha-Raw is known for her award-winning role in the 2013 film Belle, and has starred in other projects, most recently The Morning Show

She will next be seen in Loki, the Marvel limited series set to premier in June on the Disney+ streaming service.

‘Belle’ and the slave trade

In 2014, the star visited UN Headquarters in New York to discuss her film role in ‘Belle’, as part of the organization’s commemorations of the devastating Transatlantic slave trade that year. Watch the video below for more details:

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Rohingya refugees: UN agency urges immediate rescue to prevent ‘tragedy’ on Andaman Sea

The precise number and location of the refugees is unknown, and there are reports that many may have already lost their lives, Indrika Ratwatte, Director of the UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, located in Bangkok, said in news release. The last information of distress was received on Saturday evening, local time. 

“In the absence of precise information as to the refugees’ location, we have alerted the authorities of the relevant maritime states of these reports and appealed for their swift assistance, should the vessel be found in their area of responsibility for search and rescue. Immediate action is needed to save lives and prevent further tragedy.” 

The refugees are believed to have departed from Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf, southern Bangladesh, about ten days ago, and the vessel has reported been adrift after the engine broke down, more than a week ago, according to UNHCR.  

Refugees have reported that the vessel has been out of food and water for several days now, and that many of the passengers are ill, it added. 

“Many are in a highly vulnerable condition and are apparently suffering from extreme dehydration. We understand that a number of refugees have already lost their lives, and that fatalities have risen over the past 24 hours”, added Mr. Ratwatte. 

The Andaman Sea is a body of water in the Indian Ocean. It lies to the southeast of Bay of Bengal, south of Myanmar, west of Thailand and east of India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

‘Saving lives must be the priority’ 

The UNHCR official appealed to all governments in deploy their search and rescue capacities and promptly disembark those in distress, stressing that “as always, saving lives must be the priority”. 

“In line with international obligations under the law of the sea and longstanding maritime traditions, the duty to rescue persons in distress at sea should be upheld, irrespective of nationality or legal status”, he urged.  

UNHCR stands ready to support governments across the region in providing any necessary humanitarian assistance and quarantine measures in the coming days for those disembarked, in line with public health protocols, Mr. Ratwatte said. 

“The fact that refugees and migrants continue to undertake fatal journeys accentuates the need for immediate and collective regional response to search, rescue and disembarkation”, he added. 

Several hundred people are reported to have perished trying to cross the Andaman Sea, a journey once dubbed as “three times more deadly” than in the Mediterranean, due to starvation, dehydration, debilitating diseases, people being thrown overboard alive, or denied life-saving care and support. 

UNICEF/Patrick Brown
Rohingya refugees walk ashore at Shamlapur beach in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh, after crossing the Bay of Bengal. (File)

A complex refugee crisis   

The complex Rohingya refugee crisis erupted in August 2017, following attacks on remote police outposts in western Myanmar by armed groups alleged to belong to the community. These were followed by systematic counter attacks against the minority, mainly Muslim, Rohingya, which human rights groups, including senior UN officials, have said amounted to ethnic cleansing.   

In the weeks that followed, over 700,000 Rohingya – the majority of them children, women and the elderly – fled their homes for safety in Bangladesh, with little more than the clothes on their backs.   

Prior to the mass exodus, well over 200,000 Rohingya refugees were sheltering in Bangladesh as a result of earlier displacements from Myanmar. 

Transparency must rule Iraqi elections, ‘loyalties cannot be for sale’, Security Council hears

“Close collaboration between Baghdad and Erbil, to bring the culprits to justice, is now of the greatest importance”, said Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), referring to the cooperation with the Kurdish Region in the north. 

Credible elections 

The UN envoy updated that in consultation with the Independent High Electoral Commission, the Council of Ministers had decided that elections would be held on 10 October, four months later than originally planned. But while parliament had passed financing legislation, it has not finalized the Federal Supreme Court law, which certifies election results. 

“Further delays cannot be accepted”, the UN envoy said, urging all parties to proceed immediately. 

Against the backdrop that for elections to be trusted, “unfounded theories must be disproved, baseless accusations refuted, [and] intimidation replaced with accountability”, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert said. 

“Transparency must rule and loyalties cannot be for sale”, she underscored. 

As credible polls require “a free and safe environment” for parties, candidates and the media, she called on all parties and authorities to “come together, to agree on a ‘code of conduct’” for free elections “without fear of intimidation, attack, abduction or assassination”.  

Reminding the Council that it had received an electoral observation request from the Government, the Special Representative expressed hope that Iraqis can continue to count on its “steadfast support and solidarity”. 

“No matter what your response is, the elections will be Iraqi-led and Iraqi-owned at all times”, she said. “The UN does not take sides. Our independence and impartiality define us”. 

Decisive action needed 

While Iraq continues to experience acute financial and economic difficulties, a recent increase in oil revenues has “eased the liquidity crisis” and surging projected prices allow the government to move forward on pressing matters such as public services and civil servant salaries, the UN official pointed out. 

But because “precious little progress has been made” in implementing reform measures, “Iraq can afford neither continued dependence on resource extraction, nor the excessive burden of an outsized public sector”, she continued. 

“And as always, the fight against economic and political corruption, the promotion of robust governance, transparency and accountability, must all be the watchwords accompanying such reform”, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert added. 

UNAMI/Salar Brifkani
The old city of Sinjar in Iraq.

Country-wide stability

Agreement on the 2021 budget law requires reconciliation and compromise between Baghdad and Erbil, which according to the UN envoy, “remains elusive”.  

Constructive negotiations continue to be hampered by missing laws, including on oil, revenue sharing and disputed territories. 

“To date, no agenda or timetable has been set to address these outstanding issues”, she said. And recent budgetary negotiations have not just centred on technical questions but were “inherently political – about deeper misgivings and mistrust”. 

Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert re-emphasized that “a positive, stable relationship between federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region is absolutely essential to the stability of the whole country”, as is enhancing and strengthening Iraq’s federal system, which requires concessions. 

‘A ticking time bomb’ 

Although camp closures for internally displaced Iraqis, many of whom are women and children, have been in progress for the past three months, unwanted outcomes – such as secondary displacement or people returning to areas without sufficient shelter or basic services – are also ongoing, according to the UN Iraqi envoy. 

She stressed that “the haste and opacity” surrounding camp closures can easily precipitate another crisis and said that “the focus must be on safe and dignified measures to solve displacement”, urging Iraqi authorities to adopt and roll out national plan for durable solutions. 

“Al-Hol continues to be a ticking time bomb. And if it goes off, the impact will be immense”, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert said, referring to repercussions for Iraq. 

“Iraq has a responsibility to take back its citizens – starting with the humanitarian cases. Many promises have been made…and it is truly time to live up to them”, she spelled out.  

Fire at Afghan-Iranian border hits vital humanitarian assistance: UN migration agency

The blaze erupted after small arms fire ignited fuel trucks parked at a customs depot at the Islam Qala border point, resulting in multiple explosions, IOM said in a news release on Monday. The crossing, located about 120 kilometres (75 miles) from Herat city, is a major transit point between Afghanistan and Iran. At least 40 people died in the fire and 17 others were injured. 

“Fortunately, all returnees who registered that day at our reception centre already had moved onward to their next destination before the fire began,” Nick Bishop, programme manager of IOM’s cross-border return response, said. 

IOM staff at the reception centre are also safe and no injuries were reported, according to the agency.  

The centre, however, suffered “extensive damage” to its roof and ceiling, as per an initial assessment, IOM said, adding that a more detailed structural assessment will be carried out in the coming days. 

“We hope to rapidly repair all damage to the reception facility as soon as possible and continue vital humanitarian services to Afghans returning through this major transit route, but we will require increased support to do so,” Mr. Bishop added. 

Assisting thousands every day 

About 15,000 people were passing through the border crossing daily, including some 1,500 who needed humanitarian assistance, including emergency items, mental health and psychosocial counselling, and onward transportation support. Some also required hot meals. 

Last year, about 860,000 undocumented Afghan migrants used the Islam Qala border crossing, the highest on record, as many Afghan migrants in Iran lost jobs and livelihoods due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact.  

IOM anticipates that the number of returning through the Islam Qala border will drop significantly until it resumes full functionality. Those coming back are currently being diverted to the Milak crossing, in Nimroz province, located about 1,000 (620 miles). 

In 2021, an estimated 654,000 Afghan undocumented migrants are expected to return. 

Armed group atrocities creating havoc in eastern DR Congo: UN refugee agency

A record of more than 2,000 civilians were killed in three eastern provinces last year in attacks mainly attributed to armed groups, agency partners have reported. 

The violence has continued into this year.  The most recent incident occurred in late January, when two men were killed and six others were seriously injured following an incursion into a site for forcibly displaced people in Masisi Territory, North Kivu province. 

Raids, curfews and ‘security’ payments 

UNHCR Spokesperson Babor Baloch said that three people from the Kivuye displacement site, which is supported by the agency, were kidnapped in raids carried out by an armed group a week ahead of the attack.   

The armed group has also imposed a curfew in the area and visits homes to force residents to make “security” payments. 

“UNHCR and its partners have heard numerous testimonies from people who have survived this targeted violence. Between December 2020 and January 2021, at least seven incursions by armed groups into five different sites have been reported in Masisi Territory,” said Mr. Baloch, speaking from Geneva. 

Displaced people under fire 

In eastern DRC, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are supporting 22 sites, home to more than 88,000 displaced people.  Thousands more are living in spontaneous sites, or in host communities. 

“Attacks by armed groups are carried out on the suspicion of collaboration with other groups or the Congolese security forces,” Mr. Baloch said. “Some of these sites are under threat from multiple armed groups. Civilians find themselves trapped in the middle of confrontations between different groups.”  

UNHCR has also received reports of armed groups forcibly occupying schools and homes, and attacking health centres, Mr. Baloch added. Some have also imposed illegal taxes on villagers who want to access their farms, thus cutting them off from their only source of food and income.   

“While the Congolese army’s military operations against militia groups are more often successful than in the past, the armed forces do not have the capacity to maintain control of the areas they secure, thus leaving space for armed actors to reclaim those areas and to impose themselves on the local population,” he said. 

Severe funding shortfall 

UNHCR is working with local authorities and communities to protect civilians, while also closely monitoring the situation through its partners on the ground. 

The violence has uprooted more than five million people in the past two years, according to UN estimates, but UNHCR’s efforts to assist them remain severely underfunded. 

The agency is seeking $195 million to support its operations in the DRC, but so far has received only six per cent of the funding. 

Migrating online: The digital tools preparing refugees and migrants with an economic lifeline

Sharifa Ahammad, along with more than 900,000 stateless Rohingya refugees, lives in extremely congested camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, near the border with Myanmar. Having fled violence, the refugees now have to contend with the threat of landslides, flooding and cyclones, in a region that is known for poverty and violence.

However, Ms. Ahammad, who sold handicrafts made from bamboo before she was forced to leave her home in Myanmar, as well as many others like her, now have the possibility of building a business and making a living, with the help of a digital initiative supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Aspire to innovate

a2i
People in Bangladesh can access a wide range of digital information on the a2i platform.

The project, Aspire to Innovate (a2i), is one of the centrepieces of the Bangladeshi government’s Digital Bangladesh agenda. The programme aims to transform digital services for the country’s citizens in a wide range of areas, including digital finance, help for people living with disabilities, and simplifying bureaucracy.

a2i provided Ms. Ahammad with business training, and enabled her to distribute her wares, via an immense online marketplace designed to create a sustainable way for refugees to earn money, and improve their skills.

The Rohingya are far from the only community in Bangladesh that needs assistance to make ends meet. Migrants and displaced people make up a significant proportion of the population of the country: almost 700,000 are forced to leave their homes every year as a result of natural disasters: some 400,000 of them head to the capital, Dhaka. In addition, nearly seven million Bangladeshis have left the country in search of employment.

a2i has developed a portal designed to help migrant workers, forcibly displaced people and host communities, by connecting them to job opportunities. Six digital a2i centres have been set up outside of the country, three of them in Saudi Arabia, where nearly a third of all Bangladeshi workers are based.

Filling the gaps

The success of the project has inspired UNDP to develop and scale up similar programmes internationally, and seek to help other communities in need, such as Turkey’s refugee population, the world’s largest.

The vast majority of refugees in Turkey, some 3.6 million, are Syrians fleeing the years-long conflict in the country. Hamed al Faisal is one of them. He had worked as a web developer in Syria before being forced to leave home. A UNDP platform in Turkey has helped Mr. al Faisal to find work providing business advice to other Syrian refugees. They, in turn have benefited from the online assistance provided by the programme, to set up companies, gain accreditation, and market themselves as freelancers.

“Programmes like a2i have measurably improved the lives of many refugees and migrants”, says Asaka Okai, head of the UNDP’s Crisis Bureau. “Now we’ve seen the impact of digital tools in Bangladesh and Turkey, we want to extend the opportunities to other communities in need, such as Syrian migrants and refugees in Jordan, and Venezuelans in Colombia”.

The importance of digital tools in enabling migrants to make a living is highlighted in a 2019 UNDP report, Migrant Union: Digital Livelihoods for People on the Move, which identifies the gaps between available digital tools and services, digital policies, and the actual needs of migrants. The study recommended building partnerships, particularly with the private sector, which generally own digital tools and platforms, and those who need skilled migrants.

©UNICEF/Arcos
It’s hoped digital tools will also help Venezuelan refugees in Colombia

The urgency of putting these recommendations into practice, and scaling up digital opportunities has dramatically increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. The consequences of the pandemic have affected all forms of human mobility, particularly international migration:  travel restrictions and other curbs to movement have been identified by the UN’s migration agency (IOM) as being responsible for slowing the growth of global migration by some 27 per cent. Many migrant workers have either found themselves unable to leave their countries of origin, or stranded abroad without work, or the means to return home.

Online commerce, however, has boomed over the same period. A recent survey from the UN trade agency, UNCTAD, showed that the pandemic has accelerated the shift towards a digital world, with the greatest shift to online shopping taking place in emerging economies.

“At a time when social distancing and lockdowns are confining millions of people to their homes, online commerce is sometimes the only way to buy and sell goods”, says Ms. Okai. “We are confident that initiatives such as a2i will allow refugees and migrants to share in this new global marketplace”.

Burundi: UN refugee agency appeals for over $220 million in ‘crucial’ support

“Increased international support is crucial to ensure Burundian refugees receive meaningful protection and care in neighbouring countries”, said Clementine Nkweta-Salami, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (UNHCR) Regional Director for the East, Horn of Africa and Great Lakes region.  

More international backing 

For nearly seven years, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have hosted Burundi refugees. 

And although a political transition last year has brought hope that more refugees may be able to return home, the majority will continue to need international protection throughout the year. 

This year, the 2021 Burundi Regional Refugee Response Plan seeks critical support to provide food, shelter and education, as well as access to healthcare and water, which are especially needed for prevention and response measures related to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Committing resources is an important signal that the world has not forgotten Burundian refugees and their host communities”, said Mr. Nkweta-Salami. 

On shaky ground 

The UN refugee agency cited a political crisis in 2015 that had constrained the country’s peacebuilding and social cohesion and yielded international sanctions that led to market instability, price increases, food insecurity and supply shortages. 

Moreover, rising unemployment and the collapse of social services have resulted in a sharp deterioration in living conditions.  

And in 2019 more frequent and severe shortages of fuel and currency contributed to a flourishing black market.  

With a population of approximately 12 million, Burundi is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa.  

According to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) October 2020 World Economic Outlook, the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita stood at a meagre $267.  

Meanwhile, the economy remains heavily reliant on agriculture, which accounts for more than a third of the country’s GDP, but whose productivity is the lowest in the region. 

A joint plan 

Last year’s $293 million Burundian refugee response appeal, which was just 40 per cent financed, was among the most underfunded globally.  

The consequences for the lives of refugees and their host communities were acute and included cuts to food rations, inadequate shelters, shortages of medicines and insufficient livelihood activities. 

This year’s appeal includes funding to step up voluntary, safe and dignified return for those who choose to repatriate, and is complemented by a Joint Refugee Return and Reintegration Plan, which covers returnee receptions and monitoring along with reintegration support in Burundi. 

Although conditions are not yet conducive for the promotion of voluntary repatriation, UNHCR is supporting the return of Burundian refugees if their decision is voluntary, free and informed, and that their return takes place in safety and dignity.  

© UNHCR/Samuel Otieno
A 23-year-old pregnant Burundian refugee, stands outside her home in Kalobeyei village in Kenya.

UN chief welcomes Colombia’s ‘act of solidarity’ with 1.7 million Venezuelans

The measure announced by Iván Duque Márquez earlier in the day, granted “Temporary Protections Status” to about 1.7 million Venezuelans for ten years, many of whom lacked regular status, affecting their ability to access essential services, protection and assistance. 

“This important act of solidarity will allow approximately a third of the 5 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the region to formally access services and contribute to the Colombian economy”, said a statement issued by the spokesperson for Secretary-General António Guterres. 

The statement also noted that the announcement came at a time when Colombia faces the unrelenting health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The inclusion of Venezuelan refugees and migrants will contribute to the pandemic recovery process and enable Venezuelans in Colombia to access the country’s health and other basic services”, it added. 

The Secretary-General also reiterated the commitment of the United Nations “to accompany and support the Government and people of Colombia in their efforts to respond to the needs of vulnerable Colombians and Venezuelans.” 

‘A life-changing gesture’ 

Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who is currently on a mission to Colombia also welcomed the announcement, highlighting that the “bold humanitarian gesture” serves as an example for the region and the rest of the world. 

“It is a life-changing gesture for the 1.7 million displaced Venezuelans who will now benefit from added protection, security and stability while they are away from home,” Mr. Grandi said. 

“We applaud Colombia for its extraordinary generosity and its commitment to ensure protection for displaced Venezuelans. This decision serves as a model of pragmatism and humanity”, he added. 

‘An example to the world’ 

Also on Monday, António Vitorino, Director General of the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) highlighted that the Colombian move is key to facilitating Venezuelan refugees and migrants socio-economic integration and access to the national health system and COVID-19 vaccination campaigns. 

“The Government of Colombia has once again shown both great solidarity and leadership. Its decision serves as an example to the world,” Mr. Vitorino said. 

According to UNHCR, with the coronavirus pandemic compounding needs throughout the region, many Venezuelan refugees and migrants, as well as local communities, struggle to survive amid worsening poverty, job losses, evictions, hunger, and a lack of food and access to medical treatment. 

Among others, the Temporary Protection Status will provide Venezuelans access to basic services including the national health system and COVID-19 vaccination plans, said the UN refugee agency, adding that regularization is also key to long-term solutions, including access to the job market, which in turn serves to lessen the dependency of people on humanitarian assistance while also contributing to the country’s post-pandemic socio-economic recovery. 

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