integration of Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees in Ecuador: Ongoing support to provide information on protection services, job opportunities and access to decent living conditions to Venezuelan refugees and migrants
In 2020, AVSI started the project Integrados to improve the well-being and integration of vulnerable Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Ecuador, through interventions in shelter, protection, and livelihoods. The project is implemented in conjunction with sub-grantee Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI) and financed by U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).
Since 2015, the ongoing political and economic crisis in Venezuela has forced over 6 million people to flee to other countries in search of a better life. As of 2021, about half a million Venezuelans had moved to Ecuador.
Bureaucratic delays and political factors make it difficult for Venezuelan migrants in Ecuador to get regular legal status and the protections that come with it. Without their documentation, it is hard for them to access Ecuador’s health and education systems.
Moreover, Venezuelans often face discrimination in the search for safe, dignified housing, as some landlords refuse to rent to them based on their nationality. As a result, large groups of Venezuelans live crowded in small, unsafe apartments. This was especially problematic during the heigh of the COVID-19 pandemic, when they had no way to keep a safe physical distance or isolate when sick.
These hardships are magnified by difficulties finding employment or other income-generating activities. The economic consequences of COVID-19 and related shutdown measures made it even more difficult for Venezuelan migrants in Ecuador to make a living.
To respond to these significant challenges, AVSI Ecuador partnered with COOPI to act along three main axes: protection, shelter, and livelihood.
Multipurpose cash transfer: In each year of the project, 500 families receive a multipurpose cash transfer benefit for three months to help them meet their basic needs so that they can focus on fully integrating and pursuing income generating activities.
Case referral: AVSI’s social assistants accompany each family on their journey to integration, helping identify their needs and refer them to the correct agency who helps them access the health/education/legal services they need. So far, over 90% of cases referred have been resolved successfully.
Exit Strategies: As an initial step, project staff works with temporary shelters to improve systems for transitioning migrants out of temporary shelters and into long-term solutions.
Agreements with trusted landlords: AVSI staff map secure housing options in each territory where the project operates and then identify landlords who are open to renting to Venezuelans. AVSI negotiates and signs agreements with these landlords where they promise to not raise the agreed rent price and agree to a set of norms of conduct with their renters.
Structural improvements to short-term shelters, multifamily housing units, and community centers: AVSI’s architects and social promoters work together to make structural upgrades that favor health and dignity, increasing ventilation, reducing crowding and creating child-friendly spaces.
Kit delivery: AVSI delivers a kit to each family which includes household items like blankets, mattresses, and toiletries.
Partnerships with companies and business associations: COOPI staff identify local businesses and associations who can support Venezuelan workers and possibly hire them or incorporate them into the association.
Skills workshops: COOPI offers workshops in trades that beneficiaries can use to start their own income generating activity, such as beauty (hairdressing, manicure), food and beverage, and technology (cell phone repair).
Business plan development and seed funding: In each year of the project, COOPI guides about 60 people through the process of developing a business plan and then awards $1,000 seed grants to each business to help them get started.
In its first two years, Integrados has directly benefited 1,000 families (about 4,000 people). Over 70% of the beneficiaries of the livelihood component are women. There are about 20,000 indirect beneficiaries, including future residents of temporary shelters and multifamily units, future community members benefitting from improvements to community centers, and neighbors benefiting from the services provided through the small businesses started through the project.
Integrados has been renewed by PRM and will expand to cover more cities and towns across Ecuador.