Brazil is one of the hosting countries. Some 265,000 Venezuelan refugees and migrants live there, according to government statistics. Juana is one of them. She now lives in Manaus, the capital city of the Amazonas state.
Back in Venezuela, she lived in the town of Maracay where she had decided to try to stay even after her 3 daughters left for Brazil. However, the economic situation was getting worse by the week and she knew that at some point she would have had to flee to survive.
In early 2020 she learnt that one of her daughters was expecting her first child. She realised that the moment had come to rejoin her family.
Juana packed her bags and started the 2,300 km journey towards Manaus. She knew it was going long and hard, but she knew she was going to reunite with her family and meet the new member.
An agonising journey
Things did not go as expected: shortly after giving birth, her daughter died and the newborn baby went to live with his father. On top of this terrible loss, Juana came to know that her 4 grandchildren had been left alone in the city of Pacaraima, in the northern state of Roraima.
Their father had died and their mother, who suffered from a severe mental health condition, ended up abandoning them. The streets of an unknown city are no place for unaccompanied children: without further ado, Juana closed the small street vending business she had managed to set up and went to rescue them.
When Juana managed to find them, they were alone with no shoes, no clothes and no food. She brought them back to Manaus, but to ensure their safety she had to officially become their legal guardian.
© UNICEF, 2021
Juana travelled to the city of Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima, where they reached the facilities of the Operação Acolhida (Operation Welcome) – a humanitarian response operation focused on the northern states of Roraima and Amazonas aimed at helping Venezuelan refugees and migrants to resettle in Brazil.
The operation, coordinated by the Brazilian army and supported by international organisations and non-governmental entities, provides Venezuelans with legal support, shelter, protection, health and other services.
A new beginning
Thanks to UNICEF and AVSI Brazil legal support, Juana obtained custody of her grandchildren.
She also became one of the beneficiaries of an EU funded cash-based intervention. This entitled her to receive economic support for the first 3 months after the reunification, eventually renewables for 3 more months.
“It helped me a lot because we didn’t have money for food and what I earn is too little for the five of us. If it weren’t for this card, we would be going through a lot more difficulties”, says Juana. “Eliazar is the smallest of my grandchildren, but he is already the one who eats the most,” she jokes.
Juana’s greatest desire is that her nephews can have a life safer than her own. “They are very intelligent, and I hope they will always be interested in learning, reading, and studying,” she says. “They need to continue studying: one of them wants to become a doctor, the other an engineer, and the other a lawyer. They want and can be someone in life,” wishes Juana.
EU humanitarian aid in action
In 2020, the European Union allocated €3.2 million to UNICEF. This funding helps provide urgent humanitarian assistance to girls, boys, and adolescents on the move from Venezuela and host communities in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Trinidad and Tobago.
EU humanitarian funding also aims at strengthening social and child protection systems to ensure that no one is left behind.
© UNICEF, 2021
“The Venezuelan crisis becomes more critical by the month and obliges people to flee their country under increasingly hard conditions. Therefore, the number of single-headed families and unaccompanied children crossing irregularly the borders between Venezuela and Brazil is increasing,” says Álvaro de Vicente, Head of the EU’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Their vulnerable conditions, together with the overall worsening of the pandemic situation in Brazil in terms of access to health services, livelihoods and deterioration of security, make them extremely vulnerable and in urgent need of protection and assistance,” he explains.
“In Brazil, EU humanitarian aid supports UNICEF in the provision of care and protection to unaccompanied children, training of migration services for managing their cases, non-formal education for children and adolescents, as well as in the provision of technical support and medical supplies to the currently overwhelmed primary health system,” says de Vicente.
The prolonged measures adopted to fight COVID-19 have had a detrimental impact on Venezuelan refugees and migrants, rising unemployment rates and evictions. The pandemic is making even more difficult for them to have access to food and basic services.
EU humanitarian funding allows UNICEF to assist more than 8,000 children and adolescents in the states of Roraima, Amazonas, and Para. This assistance includes access to legal support and a cash transfer program for family reunification or children at risk of being left unaccompanied aimed at guaranteeing their health, education and nutrition.