“With what we receive, we don’t have enough to eat, or to rent, for anything. We have to sleep in the street and expose ourselves to the virus,” says José Gregorio, one of the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants living in Ecuador.
José is part of a population that works in the informal market, selling candy on the streets of Quito. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there were 330,000 Venezuelans in this country by the end of 2019.
The health emergency caused by COVID-19 has complicated the living conditions of migrant populations. One of the main effects is the reduction of their livelihoods. Many migrants obtained their income from businesses or jobs that have been forced to close temporarily because of the emergency. Others work in the informal sector and find it very difficult to pay for their rent, food, health, and access to basic services.
The Ecuadorian Red Cross has provided humanitarian assistance with the delivery of hygiene kits and food. In the province of Pichincha, the National Society has delivered 4,630 food kits, while in Guayas, 500 were delivered. In addition, 1,000 hygiene kits were distributed between Guayas, Pichincha and five other provinces. This aid was aimed at people in vulnerable situations, including migrants.
“All our actions are coordinated with the state so as not to duplicate efforts and help in the most efficient way. In the case of the Province of Pichincha, we work with the Metropolitan Emergency Operations Centre. Similarly, we have articulated cooperation actions with the private sector, which has been key to mobilizing resources during the emergency,” says Roberto Bonilla, technician of the Ecuadorian Red Cross.
One of the serious problems faced by migrants is psychological distress. The distance from their families, the anxiety generated during quarantine, as well as the stigma and discrimination they often suffer, are situations that can create depression. The Ecuadorian Red Cross has been using teleassistance to provide psychosocial support. This is a service that is open to the entire community, including the migrant population and involves mental health volunteers who provide support from different parts of the country.
According to Roger Zambrano, National Coordinator of Risk Management of the Ecuadorian Red Cross, the institution is currently carrying out a process of preparation for its volunteers with a view to extending its actions on the ground, in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The safety of our volunteers and staff comes first,” he says. “We are developing biosecurity protocols and procedures, as well as face-to-face and virtual training. We are also arranging for protective equipment to be sent to our volunteers. The idea is to expand our activities in the country, guaranteeing the well-being of our staff”.