Venezuela’s neighbors are urging the country’s leaders to stop blocking humanitarian aid.
Venezuelan soldiers used shipping containers to barricade a major border crossing with Colombia. President Nicolas Maduro won’t accept the international aid, some of it being sent at the request of self-declared president Juan Guaido.
Venezuela suffers from huge shortages of food, medicine, and other basic supplies; more than 2 million have migrated to escape the desperate situation.
As CGTN’s Dan Collyns reports from Peru, many have no plans to return anytime soon.
The United Nations has called it South America’s biggest migration crisis.
More than 3 million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015, and those who have fled have had an impact on other parts of Latin America.
For a region characterized more by mass emigration than as a destination for immigration, it’s been an unprecedented challenge.
“Venezuelan migration is not temporary, it’s going to be long-lasting,” according to Cecile Blouin of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights at Lima’s Catholic University. “Even the migrants themselves say the reconstruction of their country is going to take a very long time. We can’t expect that the problem will be solved soon and that some three million people will return to their country.”
In the last year, the numbers leaving Venezuela have spiked, creating sizeable migrant populations abroad.
Peru does not share a border with Venezuela, but after Colombia is the second largest recipient of migrants with more than 630,000 by the end of 2018.
That’s four times more than it had at the beginning of last year.
Most migrants are young. They want to help their families and seek a better future for themselves.
Jonathan earns what he can as a children’s street entertainer in the Peruvian border city of Tumbes.
“With a lack of medicine, the lack of food, everything is super expensive, there’s no future,” he explained. “That goes for me; I’m a young person and for the children even less. What’s happening there is really appalling.”
Ricardo has found work as an ice cream vendor.
“Like all Venezuelans, I have family back home who have needs, and I’ve come here so I can send something to my family so they can eat. There’s a lot of us who are struggling to survive, and we’re here sticking up for our country so we can get past this.”
But Peru – once one of the most receptive countries – has also toughened its stance.
Last year, Peru demanded migrants have passports and it ended a temporary residency plan.
Neighboring Ecuador demanded criminal record checks for migrants after a Venezuelan man murdered his pregnant Ecuadorean girlfriend in January.
The crime triggered violent attacks against Venezuelans in Ibarra, the town where it took place.
But there’s also been solidarity. Here in Lima, Venezuelans thank Peru as they celebrate a new political option in their country.
In neighborhoods across Lima, you can see the distinctive yellow, blue and red colors of the Venezuelan flag on caps and T-shirts worn by migrants from all walks of life. Here, they celebrate opposition leader Juan Guaido’s declaration that he will serve as interim president.
Amid the celebrations, there’s still uncertainty, and few feel ready to make the journey home just yet.
“The people are going to continue arriving, the people who migrate look at a lot of factors, and Peru has a lot of attractive factors,” Cecile said.
The largely unregulated economy creates earning opportunities but also comes with risks – abusive employers, low pay or worse, exploitation by criminal mafias.
But with limited options, for most migrants, the pros outweigh the cons.