HSP Case Study: Colombian Red Cross

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Colombian Red Cross

Fixed Humanitarian Service Point


Villa del Rosario, Colombia

Date established


Target communities
  • Venezuelan refugees and migrants
  • Colombian internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees
  • Other migrants and displaced persons in transit
  • Host communities
Services provided
  • Temporary shelter
  • Healthcare (including mental health and psychosocial support)
  • Food
  • Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)
  • Information on risks of sexual and gender-based violence
  • Safe referrals and follow-up for survivors
  • Child-friendly space and safe space for women
Colombia - map

The Americas region is home to complex mixed migration patterns. Migrants and displaced persons from very different origins and backgrounds move through irregular pathways, driven by persecution, violence, disasters and a desire for better opportunities. In addition to the estimated 5.2 million IDPs living in Colombia, the arrival and transit of millions of refugees and migrants from Venezuela has had significant impacts on the country. Territories bordering Venezuela, such as Norte de Santander, where the HSP is located, are particularly impacted: one in every five inhabitants is or has been a migrant or displaced person.

Other patterns of mobility have included migrants and displaced persons from Cuba and Haiti, as well as Africa and Asia, entering Colombia from Ecuador and Brazil, seeking to reach the United States of America via Central America and Mexico. Migration dynamics in Colombia have changed dramatically since March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, related restrictions and their impacts. Thousands of Venezuelans have attempted to return home due to lost livelihoods and housing in Colombia. Meanwhile, almost one million Colombian migrants and displaced persons have returned home to Colombia.

Migrants and displaced persons in Colombia have diverse protection risks and humanitarian needs. Urgent needs include access to education, food, housing, health, employment and security. Migrants and displaced persons also experience risks of gender-based violence, risky and harmful survival strategies, labour exploitation, child labour, domestic violence, xenophobia and family separation and disappearance. Migrants and displaced persons from outside the Americas face additional challenges due to language barriers, as well as unfamiliarity with specific risks along different routes (which can include jungles, dangerous rivers, climate events and the presence of illicit groups).

Colombian RC - Fixed HSP

The fixed HSP is located around 600 metres from the Simon Bolivar International Bridge, a major border crossing point between Colombia and Venezuela, in the town of Villa del Rosario. It was created in 2018, in response to the Venezuelan displacement crisis. When the emergency started, the local Red Cross branch, Seccional Norte de Santander, was initially the only agency responding to needs in the area, distributing water and energy bars to Venezuelans. These efforts were later formally recognized by local authorities, who submitted an official request to the Colombian Red Cross, as an auxiliary to the authorities, to support the local humanitarian response.

The HSP was developed in collaboration with several partners: the Colombian Chancellery, Migration Colombia, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Villa del Rosario’s Mayor’s Office and the National Unit for Disaster Risk Management. The HSP is housed in an old school building, based on a memorandum of understanding with the Mayor’s office. All activities at the HSP are based on a cooperation agreement between the Colombian Red Cross and IOM, which clearly stipulates that the HSP operates according to the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

The HSP provides services that were designed in line with a needs assessment conducted in informal migrant and displaced persons settlements by the Colombian Red Cross, with the support of Migration Colombia. The assessment identified shelter as the most important need, followed by food and non-food items, as well as cash. The HSP adapts IFRC standards to the local context, as part of a unified response by the Colombian Red Cross to the needs of migrants and displaced persons across Colombia.

“We have a comparative advantage over other organizations: it is our presence in the territory where no other governmental body (police, army, state organizations) or NGO can enter. The Red Cross is present throughout Colombia. Its uniform, our emblem, our impartiality, we are auxiliaries of the state. So this allowed us to access places that are difficult to reach and to give a very immediate emergency response.”

Staff member, Colombian Red Cross

The Villa del Rosario HSP is located in a residential area already inhabited by many migrants and displaced persons, on the basis that this was less likely to create tensions with the host community than creating a brand-new settlement. The HSP, which provides shelter for a limited period, aims to provide a safe space for Venezuelan refugees and migrants as well as Colombian IDPs and returnees – to receive basic services before continuing their journey through Colombia or back to Venezuela. The HSP also assists and protects vulnerable members of the host population, including single-parent households, single women, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and people at risk of trafficking, smuggling or of recruitment by armed groups.

It provides food, access to WASH facilities, phone chargers, primary healthcare, and mental health and psychosocial support, alongside protection activities such as referrals of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. The HSP team also runs capacity-building workshops, aiming to support access to employment.

Colombian RC - Fixed HSP 1

Most people spend three to five days in the center, while people with more complex needs may stay for up to ten days. This includes survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Service users are referred, if required, to external organizations for further support. A ‘pasadía’ modality also exists for people in transit who simply need to rest, bathe and eat, before continuing their journey the same day.

People in vulnerable situations are referred to the HSP by other humanitarian actors. The circumstances of all individuals referred to the center are assessed by an in-house specialist, who decides on the most appropriate course of action (including whether to accept individuals for a stay in the shelter, the potential length of stay, a safe exit strategy, ‘do no harm’ considerations and complementarity with partners). Once people are accepted, they are either transported to the HSP by the referring organization or picked up directly by the Colombian Red Cross.

The HSP has the capacity to accommodate up to 240 people, although COVID-related restrictions meant that its maximum capacity was set at 120. A staff member explained how “the space works like an accordion, it can contract for a few people or increase”. Since the Colombian Red Cross began managing the center in July 2021, almost 5,000 people have received assistance and protection. Women and girls represent 80 per cent of the total, with minors more widely represented than adults.

"We work very hard to make people’s stay and transit through this place meaningful, where the way they come in is not the same as the way they leave.”

Staff member, Colombian Red Cross

Since July 2021, various initiatives have been set up to collect feedback from migrant, displaced and local communities. These include a suggestions box; an ongoing evaluation of the level of satisfaction with the infrastructure, food, staff and services; and activities using technological tools such as ArcGIS and Power-Bi.24 Colombian Red Cross staff feel that these activities have greatly contributed to improving their services. For example, since October 2022, hygiene kits are no longer routinely distributed. Instead, a shop called “tienda de paso Victoria” has been created as a space where people choose their own hygiene products and second-hand clothes. The shop is intended to promote dignity and reduce waste, especially compared to distributing one-size-fits-all hygiene kits. The initiative has been refined based on feedback from migrants and displaced persons, especially adolescents, who have also chosen the name – Victory – which represents the achievements along their journey.

The team is proud that, from their perspective, the work of the HSP “really makes a difference” to people’s lives. According to a staff member, it is a place where “every- thing begins and ends”: it is the first HSP for Venezuelans entering Colombia, and the last point for those who are returning home. Some people who were assisted when they first crossed the border to Colombia look out for the HSP on their way out. According to staff, “this means that we have succeeded in taking care of people, in terms of well-being and dignity.”

Good practice

Mental health and psychosocial support

The HSP provides professional mental health and psychosocial support. The vast majority of service users benefit from an individual appointment when they arrive at the shelter. After this first appointment, the HSP provides one or two collective sessions on key issues including:

  • ‘migratory mourning’: dealing with the difficult process of leaving everything behind
  • moving forward, adapting to a new context without losing your identity
  • resilience and autonomy
  • professional goals
  • parenting.

Activities for children are organized in a child-friendly space, and aim to help children learn about their rights, the risks along migratory routes and self- care. This is achieved through play, ball games, music, yoga and handicrafts. Schooling activities are also provided, aiming to support children with a sense of normality. The HSP also includes a dedicated space for women to rest and speak to professional mental health specialists. These specialists identify cases where extra support is needed and refer the women to relevant organizations such as the International Rescue Committee (which implements a women’s empowerment programme), the UN Population Fund (which runs a programme aimed at preventing gender violence) and Care Colombia (which focuses on reproductive health).

Colombian Red Cross insights

“Including more host population allows us to reduce the level of xenophobia”

Colombian Red Cross staff member

Now one in five people who come to the La Parada HSP are members of the host population. The team believes that increasing this proportion helps to reduce xenophobia and discrimination faced by migrants and displaced persons in the area, addressing perceptions that they are being prioritized for assistance.

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