The Faces of Venezuela's Migrant Crisis
The Faces of Venezuela's Migrant Crisis
By Daniel Almeida
At the Carcelén bus station in the north of Quito, the Rodriguez family waits for the departure of their bus to the southern border of Ecuador on their way to Peru. It’s 11:00 a.m. and the sun peeks out, a welcome surprise by the Venezuelan travelers who are not used to the cold Andean altitude.
Carmen, a 23-year-old mother of three, recalls her ten-day journey from Mérida, Venezuela. While holding her two-month-old baby, she describes the trip as easier than she expected, despite being mugged by people seeking Venezuelan travelers carrying all their belongings with them. Still, she won’t be deterred. “We lost the one cellphone we had, and the $30 USD given by our aunt, yet we will keep on going.” Carmen and her family are among three million Venezuelans who have fled their country since 2015, according to the United Nations.
Most migrants have been forced out of Venezuela due to violence, rising costs of food, and medical shortages. The annual inflation rate reached 83,000 percent in July, according to a study by the National Assembly. Colombia hosts the highest number of refugees, with more than one million crossing into the country.
A lifeline for those back home
The majority of those waiting for the afternoon bus are men under 40. They have a lead — a family member in Peru or a job offer — but nothing is certain. Some, like Jefferson, a 27-year-old traveling alone, have already tried their luck in Colombia before venturing south of the continent. For a long time, leaving Venezuela was simply not an option for him — his two children and ill father relied on him for everything. Now, they are waiting for him to send money to buy food. “In Colombia, it’s possible to earn a living, but it’s difficult if you don’t have a work permit or visa,” Jefferson said. “It’s almost impossible to get a passport or update the national identity card, as both can be extremely expensive.” As such, most people travel without valid documentation and little money — a risky combination on the road toward stability and safety.
Few of the migrants traveling alongside Jefferson and Carmen have finished their education or received medical care in the last two years. Jefferson said that with temporary jobs, usually as a street vendor, he’s been able to pay for the next leg of his trip to Peru.
"We lost the one cellphone we had, and the $30 USD given by our aunt, yet we will keep on going."
‘Women are the most vulnerable'
Like Jefferson, 24-year-old Cesar is traveling from Margarita Island, Venezuela. He’s constantly on the look-out for temporary jobs to earn extra cash or public shelters to avoid sleeping on the street. Still, he can’t help but highlight the solidarity shown by the people in Colombia and Ecuador. However, he knows the road ahead is very dangerous, which is why he often looks for travel partners. “Women are the most vulnerable,” Cesar adds. “There are people on the border recruiting women, and if they [go with them], it’s likely they will not be seen again.”
A few meters from the bus station, an improvised camp made of plastic bags and torn camping tents house 15 children, including two newborns, and 62 adults. The camp was built just over three months ago, and has already received help and donations from organizations, like the Quito Municipality that has set up two portable toilets. Yet, precarious conditions in and around the camp mean women and girls are extremely vulnerable. Two camp coordinators, Ramiro and Laura, try to prioritize sleeping space for women and girls and keep food distributed evenly among the lodgers. In emergencies, women and girls are often the last to eat and too often become targets of violence and abuse. For the camp coordinators, the camp offers the best security available, as most other shelters are temporary and permanent jobs are hard to come by.
CARE’s response to the crisis
In Ecuador, CARE activated a humanitarian response to assist Venezuelans crossing over the border from Colombia. However, Peru remains the final destination for many of the migrants. Together with World Vision and support from the Star Funds humanitarian assistance mechanism, CARE has helped reach more 1,000 people on their journey, providing sanitary and nutrition kids, travel assistance, and safety guidelines against trafficking and other forms of violence against women and girls.
CARE’s emergency response is focused on efficiently utilizing resources at assistance centers along the border and in main Ecuadorian cities, and prioritizing assistance to the most vulnerable people, including women and girls and survivors of gender-based violence. One of the key objectives is to strengthen and support the work done by governments in the region, with special attention to the regional Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting to take place in Quito on November 22nd, where a Venezuelan delegation is expected to join. The Ecuadorian government reported that from January to September 2018, 708,935 Venezuelans entered the country.
How you can help
CARE Action is actively calling on members of Congress to speak out against the growing humanitarian crises around the globe and urge the administration to respond to and address the root causes of conflict and violence. This year alone, more than 137 million people worldwide will rely on humanitarian assistance to meet their most basic needs, like food, water, and shelter. The need for U.S. leadership has never been greater — tell Congress, speak out on humanitarian crises today.