Angelina Jolie was on a two-day trip, as a special envoy for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to meet Venezuelan migrants in the migration centers of Riohacha and Maicao and to meet with Colombian President Ivan Duque in Cartagena.
4 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants have fled economic and humanitarian crisis in their homeland. 1,3 million are living in Colombia, where the government and aid agencies have scrambled to provide housing, food and healthcare to an ever-growing influx of migrants arriving in already-poor and violent border regions.
The parents of Venezuelan children born abroad often struggle to register their baby's birth, either because they do not have access to an ever-shrinking number of Venezuelan consulates or because they do not have migration papers.
At first day, Angelina Jolie visited a shelter in Riohacha for Colombian and Venezuelan youth who have been sexually abused or trafficked, a danger facing many young people on the move in this border region, one of the poorest in Colombia.
There she met the Venezuelan teenager Esther Barboza, who left Maracaibo in November of last year. The young woman has a visual disability due to a childhood accident and also has a brain tumor that was recently diagnosed. In Venezuela, she did not have access to treatment or medication and needs an urgent operation.
Angelina Jolie spoke with her and said: "You are so impressive that you have taken so many of these extreme things in your life and you are so thoughtful and you have so much strength". Esther replied that she wanted to be with her family in a stable place and have a home like they had in Venezuela.
She also visited Brisas del Norte, an informal settlement that is home to hundreds of Colombian and Venezuelan families. The Colombians are former refugees who returned to their country to escape the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, the same conditions that forced the Venezuelans to seek refuge here.
Linda Lopez, a 60-year-old Venezuelan woman who arrived one month ago, approached Angelina Jolie as she walked through the community and described the dangers she faced back home. “People are dying of hunger,” Lopez said, breaking into tears. “My whole family fled.”
Perched on a sandy bluff on the Caribbean coast, the settlement is blessed with an idyllic location, but conditions are rough. Residents live in simple homes built from recycled wood and corrugated zinc sheeting.
Rocio, who was born in Colombia but lived in Venezuela for decades, told Jolie of the struggles she fled. “It was impossible to find medication, food, education,” she said. “The last time I stood in line for food I waited 18 hours.”
A neighbour, Yoryanis Ojeda, 35, spoke of similar pressures that drove her to leave. “When you get to the point where you can’t feed your children anymore, you know you can’t go on.”
Next day in the morning, Angelina Jolie had a meeting with the President of the Republic, Iván Duque, in Cartagena, where she had stressed the importance to nationalize 20,000 babies of Venezuelan parents who were born after their arrival in Colombia and are at risk of becoming stateless.
Angelina Jolie made the warning in a statement she gave with the president, to analyze the response of his Government to the Venezuelan migration crisis, due to the lack of documentation of minors to legalize their situation.
Regarding this, Ivan Duque highlighted the dialogue they spoke about the need to address the nationalization of thousands of Venezuelan children in Colombia "who do not have a defined migratory situation today and to do so is a humanitarian way of giving them opportunities and benefits they deserve. to get out of this tragedy. "
Angelina Jolie also said that she came to express her support for Colombia, which is responding to the Venezuelan crisis with a "really admirable generosity." She added that as a representative of UNHCR "it is inspiring to see the humanitarianism expressed by local communities."
"The president and I spoke of the risk of statelessness for more than 20,000 Venezuelan children, his commitment to always helping children.
We agreed on the urgent need for the international community to give more support to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, who are bearing the brunt of this crisis."
At the afternoon, Angelina Jolie visited the Integrated Assistance Center in Maicao, a centre that is hosting Venezuelans for stays of up to 30 days. It currently provides 350 highly vulnerable people with shelter and food as well as legal assistance, activities for children, medical assessments and psychosocial support.
The center was opened in March by the UNHCR and the Colombian government. However, the planned expansion to 1,400 people has stalled, with humanitarian aid falling by 79 percent across the region.
At the centre, Angelina Jolie met one young family who crossed the border in April. Maria, a 41-year-old single mother with six children, spoke of how she sold the metal roof over her family’s heads back in Venezuela and spent the money to clothe her children and put shoes on their feet for the journey to Colombia.
“Your children will think back on this time as the time that you really saved them,” Angelina Jolie told her.
At a following press conference, less than ten kilometres from the border, she said that the impact of this migration has been great in public services, hospitals, where they have served both Colombians and Venezuelans and in schools, where twice as many students are served.
Angelina Jolie recognized the courage, strength and resilience of Colombians, who "know displacement all too well and has experienced 50 years of war"
She said that her visit is a humanitarian call to the international community because countries like Colombia are managing this migration with resources that are not enough.
She recalled that the number of Venezuelans leaving their country has reached 4 million, which makes Venezuelans one of the largest displaced population groups in his country, and in Colombia about 1.3 million have sought refuge. That is why she stressed that colombia has kept the borders open, because, as she said, this has allowed "saving lives."
Angelina Jolie recalled that on June 20 is celebrated Refugee Day and that everything that is happening in Venezuela and other parts of the world "we need humanity more then ever."
At the Center Angelina Jolie met María Moreno González, a 28-year-old single mother and indigenous Wayuu, who sought refuge in our country with her six children. Moreno González said that she initially had to live in the street and then was lodged in the center.
Angelina Jolie said that as there were many personal stories that she eluded and knew and moved her. "I will not forget the Venezuelan people I have met here. My heart is with them, and I hope to return again soon."
The political and economic crisis in the neighboring country has worsened the situation for both Colombian and displaced people, many of whom are struggling to survive.
Particularly in La Guajira this has been visible. The province already suffered the highest child mortality rate in the country, but this has gone up because of the influx of starving Venezuelans who have trouble finding access to healthcare for their children.
During the stay in Riohacha, Angelina Jolie acquired some Wayuu crafts and dresses. The designer Blanca Fernández, who met with her on Friday night at the Taroa hotel, attended her. Angelina Jolie bought several Wayuu dresses, backpacks and chinchorros, but she also asked about the history of the ancestral art of the ethnic group "Wayuu"
In addition, Angelina Jolie visited Akumaja_wayuu. A workshop where traditional Wayuu Akumaja blankets are made and Angelina Jolie wore with pleasure one of the tradiotionelle Wayuu blankets made especially for ACNUR.