Many people in Latin America and the Caribbean currently become volunteers to support the Venezuelan refugees and asylum seekers. Sonia Silva, a former international UN Volunteer who served in Lago Agrio, Ecuador with UNHCR, shares how volunteering facilitates the adaptation of families on the move.
According to UNHCR and IOM’s latest report, the number of Venezuelans leaving their country has reached 4 million. Globally, the report also reveals that Venezuelans are one of the single largest population groups displaced, with a number of refugees and migrants that has increased by one million since November 2018.
Lago Agrio is a town in Ecuador located 23 km from the Colombian border and with 91.744 inhabitants. Ecuador, along with other countries in the region, are hosting the vast majority of Venezuelans; for instance, Colombia accounts for some 1.3 million refugees and migrants, followed by Peru with 768,000, Chile 288,000, Ecuador 263,000, Brazil 168,000, and Argentina 130,000. For its location on a border, various international and national organizations coordinate their response to the mixed migration flows in Lago Agrio.
Former International UN Volunteer, Sonia Silva, is a 39-year old Mexican who served as Field Officer with UNHCR in Lago Agrio. As part of her assignment, she was in charge of monitoring the implementation of UNHCR durable solutions strategy and livelihood projects, within the framework of the UNHCR Livelihood Strategy, to ensure that objectives are met.
Along with UNHCR’s implementing partners, she assisted in the creation and development of alliances with relevant public institutions, while lobbying for the inclusion of refugees and asylum seekers in state policies and public programs.
I work for the integration of refugees and asylum seekers, promoting better living conditions. I advocate for public policies to have an inclusion approach at the local level, so that the population of refugees and asylum seekers have access to programmes that facilitate people's self-sufficiency, such as those on entrepreneurship and technical skills for employment, among others- Sonia Silva, former iUNV Field Officer in UNHCR Ecuador.
Through her daily work, she identified vulnerable groups or individuals who needed special attention or special arrangements; she also advised on the inclusion of the gender and child protection approach in all the field work.
Her assignment showed her the importance of volunteering for the protection and attention of refugees and asylum seekers, specially on the support given to families on the move.
Volunteering is very important, especially the one that is "invisible". When accompanying the families, they told me stories of solidarity and volunteering that occurs spontaneously: people have given families their furniture, they have linked them in employment issues, etc. We see the importance of generating networks and opening socialization spaces, such as meetings in schools, where people know each other and break the stereotype of “you vs. the others”. That type of volunteering facilitates the adaptation of families, and schools, grassroots organizations, churches, have a very important role on this- Sonia Silva, former iUNV Field Officer in UNHCR Ecuador.
Before taking the UNV assignment in Ecuador, Sonia had previous work experience on the protection of refugees, asylum seekers and IDSPs in Jordan, Spain and Mexico. Through her assignment in Lago Agrio, she witnessed human mobility from another perspective, and she finds that very satisfactory.