Caracas: The United Nations on Monday said that nearly 327,000 children from Venezuela are living as migrants and refugees in Colombia due to lack of healthcare and education facilities in their own country.
“At a time when anti-migrant sentiment is growing worldwide, Colombia has generously kept its doors open to its neighbours from Venezuela,” said Paloma Escudero, Director of Communication at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), after completing a four-day visit to Cucuta, on the Colombian side of the border with Venezuela.
The economic and political situation in Venezuela has caused an estimated 3.7 million Venezuelans to leave their homes and move to Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and other countries in the region, the UN said in a report.
Around 1.2 million of them are in Colombia, often living in vulnerable host communities with already overstretched resources, said UNICEF.
Escudero said, “As more families make the painful decision to leave their homes in Venezuela every day, it is time for the international community to step up its support and help meet their basic needs,” adding, “We cannot let that generosity wear thin.”
“For most families, the decision to leave is only a measure of last resort,” she said.
Power blackouts have lasted for days in Venezuela, leaving over 70 per cent of the country without electricity and forcing the government to close schools and suspend work, CNN reported.
Embattled President Nicolas Maduro blamed the blackouts on a terror attack and American sabotage.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been recognised as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by more than 50 countries, including the European Union and the United States, blames it to be a result of corruption and mismanagement by the Maduro-led government. He has accused the Maduro government of neglecting the power grid and stealing the funds that could have kept it running.
Last Thursday, Maduro boasted that schools are now back and the water and electricity problems are being solved. However, many Venezuelans are sceptical that these basic services will continue for long, but they have few alternatives.
Amid the ongoing political and humanitarian crisis, neighbouring Colombia has offered to interfere and provide free education to migrant children from Venezuela.
UNICEF says that more than 130,000 Venezuelan children are enrolled in schools across Colombia today, up from 30,000 in November last year.
Nearly 10,000 of these students are in the border town of Cucuta and close to 3,000 of them commute from Venezuela every day to go to school.
UNICEF is working closely with other humanitarian agencies, national and local authorities, non-governmental organisations and communities in Colombia to provide migrant children, as well as children in host communities with health, nutrition, education and protection.