The number of people fleeing wars, violence or civil disorder rose again last year even as the coronavirus pandemic brought much of the world to a standstill.
By the end of 2020 there were 82.4 million people forcibly displaced from their homes. That’s according to the United Nations’ Refugee Agency. It is double the number a decade ago.
More than two thirds of those officially recognized as refugees came from just 5 countries. Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar.
Now, for the first time, Pakistan is registering Afghan refugees residing in the country.
Registered refugees are issued a biometric identity card. Many children born here have never been registered at all. It’s hoped the data will give international aid agencies a clearer picture of the needs in the refugee community.
Pakistani authorities have tried to encourage refugees to return home. Families are being interviewed to determine if they are ready to make the move after NATO troops leave Afghanistan. Their new ID cards are only valid until 2023.
They are the “caminantes” or walkers. Millions of them have left Venezuela, fleeing the country’s humanitarian crisis.
Now some of them are going back.
The pandemic and political turmoil in neighboring Colombia has prompted a wave of Venezuelans worn down by economic hardship to make the journey home.
Luis Arias just made it back to Venezuela after walking for two weeks with his family from the Colombian capital, Bogota.
They survived on goodwill along the way but that dried up when they crossed the border. NGOs say that the country needs much more international aid to stave off crippling hunger. Even the aid that does reach Venezuela is hard to distribute. Activists’ efforts are often hampered by fuel shortages, violence, corruption and political meddling.
According to the World Food Program, Venezuela is among the top four countries in the world suffering from food insecurity. And the UN predicts that by the end of the year the Venezuelan diaspora could reach 7 million people making it the second largest migration after Syria. Yet humanitarian aid for Venezuela is at its minimum.
Andreina Bermudez thought about joining the exodus but says the risk was and is too high with young children. Through her eldest daughter’s institute, her family received food and school supplies from UNICEF until December, now they are hoping more aid can restart the program.
To make ends meet this stay-at-home mom relies on what she can find. Today a neighbor has extra eggs for sale, but the supply of cheap food is sporadic.
That is the Venezuela the Caminantes are walking home to. A country still ravaged by economic decline. Its people still struggling to feed themselves, still waiting for international help.
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