Fleeing Venezuela: Outside the law and at serious risk

Paddy Dowling/CARE

Milagros Rincon, a 31-year-old mother of three, travelled with her family for days from Venezuela to Colombia and on to Ecuador.

It was a journey by bus and on foot. The walks, she says, were long and they weren’t the only ones fleeing.

Milagros notes seeing, “Many people traveling by foot, mothers, children, and pregnant women. Many walking with painful blisters.”

While much has been written on the political and economic situation inside Venezuela, the humanitarian crisis that has flowed from this has received less attention. Essentially, a near-worthless currency, sky-high inflation, and a poverty rate approaching 90 per cent have pushed food, medicine, and other necessities out of reach for many in this country of 32 million.

A few numbers on the situation inside Venezuela:

  • In 2018, inflation is expected to exceed 1 million per cent
  • Half of the medical professionals have left the country
  • Maternal mortality inside Venezuela has increased by 65% and infant mortality by 30% in a one year period
  • Epidemics (such as measles and polio) are re-emerging. Last year saw more than 400,000 new cases of malaria and nearly 11,000 new cases of tuberculosis.
  • 13.5% of kids under five years suffer from severe or moderate malnutrition

Given the situation inside Venezuela, it’s no surprise 2.6 million people have left the country over the past three years.

And we know this number will rise. It’s the largest exodus in Latin America in the last century.

Alex Moncada, country director at CARE Ecuador, told the Independent in the UK: “The crisis in Venezuela will continue to cause the large-scale migration we are witnessing right now. Venezuelans forced by hunger, violence and lack of opportunities for a dignified life face stigma and discrimination in countries where local communities are also living on the threshold of poverty.”

However, it has not been a soft landing for those who have walked for days.

Neighboring countries have enacted policies that restrict movement. As a result, families remain trapped between borders. They face dire conditions, sleeping rough in makeshift shelters with no access to health services and exposed to the risk of physical assault, exploitation and sexual harassment.

And what to call these people? Migrants? Refugees?

It seems an odd question to pose here, but formal classifications carry legal rights and responsibilities for hosting states.

Given the nature of the situation inside Venezuela, many crossing borders are considered outside the conventions that may apply to refugees, which makes it extremely difficult for them to find legal work and access to public services.

The result: men and boys are at risk of being forced to engage in para-militias and guerrilla groups or narcotics trafficking.

There are also startling reports of women forced to have transactional sex for food and shelter in border areas, and many have been trapped in trafficking networks for sexual exploitation. The Independent article in the link above paints a disturbing picture of Venezuelan women and girls in prostitution.


Paddy Dowling/CARE 

What do people need?

Those who have stayed in Venezuela need food and proper medical care. Those fleeing urgently need access to medical support, food, shelter, and help for the trauma they've experienced.

They also need information and legal support. Without such protection, they are left at serious risk.


How is CARE responding?

CARE is focusing its efforts to help people affected in Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.

We will provide food and additional nutrition support and, together with local partners, we’ll address issues such as gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health of women and girls. Our teams are also supporting refugees with legal counseling and access to information on their rights.


Martin Fuentes/CARE 

‘We have nowhere to live. We need your support.’

CARE’s team in Ecuador describe the situation as a slow moving crisis, but make no mistake, the word “crisis” definitely applies as the numbers continue to climb.

Last we met with Milagros and her family, they were spending their day at the junction of two busy streets in the commercial area of the Ecuadoran city of Quito. Around them you can see several packages: suitcases, bags, a sack of potatoes and a few blankets.

Her partner Julio and their 11-year-old son, Daniel, hold a sign that reads: “We are from Venezuela. We just arrived. We have nowhere to live. We need your support for our children. We find it hard to get a job because of our origin. Thank you. God will pay you back.”

The family hopes to travel on to Peru as they heard they may be able to find work there. With luck, they can make enough money to support family left behind in Venezuela.


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