For Rami Shakra, the Global Programs Director for Field Operations at NetHope, it’s clear why NetHope’s work bringing connectivity and information services to the migrants fleeing Venezuela is addressing a vital need.
NetHope recently held a webinar to outline the extensive work that NetHope and our network of global humanitarian nonprofits members and tech partners have already performed in Colombia in support of the migrants and the aid organizations, but with a sobering recognition of the work yet to do.
“Going back to our work with Syrian refugees in Greece, we realized that migrants want to be able to connect to family and friends to let them know they are safe, connect with other migrants who have moved on, and to get advice on where to go.” Shakra notes the similarity to the situation in Colombia where migrants have left behind everything and often have traveled for months, either following family or leaving family and friends behind. These networks give them the opportunity to connect, obtain information, and identify services to support their health, education, asylum and protection needs.
In 2015, nearly 700,000 Venezuelans had fled the country as currency inflated and the repressive government began to crack down on its citizens. By November 2018, three million people had left and as of July 2019, four million—13 percent of Venezuela’s total population and with no end in sight.
Shakra paints a grim picture of the current landscape: migrants being robbed at gunpoint, the sick and elderly seeking medications for basic survival, and young women, taken advantage of and now pregnant, who will be forced to give birth on the route as they search for a place to live and food to eat.
Many of these migrants must travel on foot 1,000 miles or more, most with little more than the clothes on their back, but all escaping the hunger, fear, and violence of a country teetering on the brink of complete political collapse. Some still have their smartphones but no way of connecting to a network to get information. Fortunately, a contingent of NGO relief organizations is on hand to help. Most of these are NetHope members and the connectivity NetHope provides is important to creating the communications networks these organizations require to pinpoint areas of most need and coordinate relief and connectivity for migrants.
At NetHope, we recognize the “big picture” that connectivity accomplishes by creating three important actions:
Connecting refugees with Family and Friends – This not only allows migrants to know of each other’s status, it provides a sense of familiarity that is otherwise missing from their lives.
Information as Aid – Helping the migrants know where vital supplies and support is available as well as next steps on their journey to a new home.
Enabling nonprofits to do what they do – Education, Health, Protection. Connectivity enables organizations providing support for migrants, including the more than 30 NetHope NGO members, to connect and organize relief efforts, protect health and well-being, and educate migrants on safe and accepting locations on the next steps of their journey.
This trio of services help alleviate some of the uncertainty faced by migrants as they move along established migration routes. Perhaps even more, access to a modicum of normal activities—like speaking with family and friends, or even a bit of online entertainment—helps create a small sense of normalcy during an unsure time.
To accomplish this, NetHope began deploying connectivity teams in December 2018, initially setting up sites at La Guaijira, Bogotá, and Cúcuta, Colombia, where many of these migrants have gathered. Since then, several teams have deployed, setting up connectivity in more than 80 sites along the migration route for NetHope member organizations and other local NGOs performing humanitarian response, and for the migrants themselves. These sites include clinics, hospitals, registration centers, NGO field offices, and others where service is necessary. Through June 2019, more than 110,000 unique devices have connected to these networks which NetHope estimates has benefitted 300,000 to 400,000 migrants.
The need for more sites continues as estimates over the next few months show the numbers of migrants leaving Venezuela to swell; as populations move deeper into Colombia and other countries, the need for networks to connect relief organizations and migrants grows.
NetHope is poised, along with its consortium of global humanitarian nonprofit members and technology partners, to meet these challenges. The expertise and commitment are there, but the resources required to meet these challenges is needed. Please consider joining our efforts to alleviate the greatest migrant crisis ever witnessed in the Americas. We have the power of technology to guide us; now we must deliver on its promise.