ADRA Colombia

ADRA Colombia provides medical assistance to Venezuelan migrants returning to their country

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The medical staff of ADRA Colombia's Mobile Unit, located in the city of Bucaramanga, Colombia, on June 25, 2020, at Centenario Park, to help Venezuelan migrants who are on their way back to their country. Over 80,000 Venezuelan migrants have made the journey back to Venezuela on foot amidst the crisis caused by the pandemic, which has affected their families' livelihoods in Colombia. [Photograph: ADRA Colombia]

July 29, 2020 | ADRA Colombia Press.

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Colombia is helping hundreds of Venezuelan migrants who are walking back to their country after losing their jobs in Colombia due to the crisis caused by the pandemic.

According to the latest report from Colombia’s Migration Office in April 2020, over 80,000 Venezuelans have returned to their country out of the 1,825,000 spread across Colombia. The government reports that many continue their journey back home with their belongings after losing their homes and means to support their families.

In the midst of this situation, ADRA Colombia established the Adventist Mobile Unit on the roads and at strategic points in cities such as Bogotá, Medellín, Bucaramanga, and Cúcuta, where many travelers stop on their way to the northern border with Venezuela.

“Every week, the mobile unit is set up in a predetermined city with a working team that travels the busiest roads and highways in communication with other agencies to better respond to cities where the demand for physical, emotional, and spiritual assistance is greater,” said Jair Florez, director of ADRA Colombia. The journey is approximately two hundred kilometers and can take them four days or more to travel on foot or in difficult weather conditions, he explained.

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Venezuelan migrants wait at Centenario Park in Bucaramanga, northern Colombia, to receive medical services on June 25, 2020. [Photograph: ADRA Colombia]

The Adventist Mobile Unit, a joint project with ADRA International, ADRA Colombia, and USAID, consists of a nurse, a prehospital care professional, a nursing assistant, and a social worker. The unit serves an average of thirty people per day from Monday to Friday in various cities and specific locations along the routes.

For the most part, the mobile unit’s staff attends to individuals who have experienced physical problems due to the extensive journey on foot, such as hypertension or various body pains, asthma problems, below-average weight, and pregnant women.

The Adventist Mobile Unit has also provided primary care in cities like Medellín and Bucaramanga for cases that require appointments and more intensive medical attention, laboratory analysis, and prescription medications.

Health professionals assisting those in need said that many are grateful for the service, for meeting their physical needs, but also for listening to them and giving them hope. “We strengthen them to continue the journey during these difficult times,” said Mauricio Cancelado, a nurse who has been assisting dozens of people every week. “In ADRA, they find a friend who supports them and doesn’t abandon them.”

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The mobile unit is parked along one of the main routes connecting Cúcuta and Bucaramanga in northern Colombia on July 13, 2020, where Venezuelan travelers are making the journey back to Venezuela on foot. [Photograph: ADRA Colombia]

Cancelado said that many people are grateful to God, the agency, and the Colombian people for the support. “They feel excited to see evidence that someone listens to them, helps them, and can provide them with some relief as they continue their journey to Venezuela.”

Additionally, besides assisting travelers on their way to Venezuela, community members are also being helped with their medical needs while the mobile unit is stationed near a park or at a designated location to aid those in need, Flórez said. “This has allowed this initiative to have greater visibility and be better received among the migrant population,” he expressed. At the same time, government officials in Bucaramanga and throughout the country see ADRA as complementary support to other services the government is providing.

Other organizations such as the Colombian Red Cross, SOS Children’s Villages, World Vision, and the Humanitarian Network, among others, participated in complementary activities with ADRA Colombia, Flórez said. For example, according to Flórez, World Vision donated a thousand sets of hygiene items to ADRA Colombia for distribution among the Venezuelan travelers seen by ADRA’s mobile unit each week.

Since May 2020, over 1,500 Venezuelans have been assisted free of charge by the Adventist Mobile Unit while traveling towards the Venezuelan border, Flórez reported. The emergency medical response project will continue as planned until mid-November, but ADRA leaders are requesting an extension at no cost to the donors in order to help more people.

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A person is assisted by a medical professional from ADRA Colombia's mobile unit stationed in the town of La Corcova, along the main route connecting Bucaramanga and Cúcuta in Colombia, on July 13, 2020. [Photograph: ADRA Colombia]

ADRA Colombia has been working to assist Venezuelan migrants and their families since 2019, with various projects including teaching hygienic practices, sexual and reproductive health, food distribution to families, and preventive measures against COVID-19, among others.