Astrid van Genderen Stort is UNHCR’s Chief of Emergencies and Marketing. She has worked for UNHCR for more than 25 years, across many operations and locations, including Lebanon, Liberia, West Africa, Iraq, Kosovo and China. More recently, Astrid returned from Brazil and Colombia, where she saw first-hand UNHCR’s efforts to help refugees from Venezuela.
What were your impressions of the scale of the crisis?
I had not expected to find what I did – it was far worse. In Cucuta, a Colombian city on the border with Venezuela, 8,000 free meals are served by a UNHCR- and church-supported community kitchen every single day. Everybody is affected – young and old, people with disabilities, students and young mothers.
Is UNHCR reaching the people in greatest need?
We are doing everything we can – and yes, we are helping. I was struck by one elderly lady I met in the kitchen. She was very frail, but she took my hands and said ‘Gracias’. She was so tired it took her time to finish her sentence. ‘Without this help, we would not survive.’
How are people affected by the economic situation?
Every single Venezuelan we spoke to had lost their life savings. Inflation means the Venezuelan currency has become worthless. One man told me he could have bought a car with his former monthly wages, but now they are not enough to buy a loaf of bread.
What are the next steps?
Together, we must help find an end to this suffering. Meanwhile, we have to ensure that Venezuelans forced to flee can find safe passage, survive in the countries where they seek safety and then, hopefully, return home to a brighter future.