Venezuelans Once Again Fleeing as Troubles Increase
Eleazar Hernández slept on the side of a road in the light rain as the weather turned cold.
The 23-year-old Venezuelan was trying to get to the Colombian city of Medellin with his wife. She is seven months pregnant.
They had no money for transportation by the time they reached the small town of Pamplona, about 480 kilometers away from Medellin. Hernández hoped to get a ride on the back of a truck to cross the Paramo de Berlin, an area high in the mountains.
"My wife can barely walk," said Hernández. "We need transport to get us out of here," he added. The Associated Press (AP) reports the two spent four days sleeping on Pamplona's sidewalks.
Venezuelans are again fleeing their nation's economic and humanitarian disaster.
The disease COVID-19 and measures to slow its spread halted one of the world's biggest migrationmovements. Venezuelans are going to Colombia to escape an economy where many people earn less than two dollars a month.
The number of people leaving is smaller than before. But Colombian immigration officials expect 200,000 Venezuelans to enter the country in the next few months. In Colombia, there is the chance for them to find work, which will allow them to send money back to feed their families.
The new migrants are finding conditions worse than those who fled Venezuela before COVID-19. Many shelters remain closed. Colombians fearing infection are less likely to help with food donations. And drivers are less likely to pick up hitchhikers.
"We hardly got any lifts along the way," said Anahir Montilla. She is a cook from the Venezuelan state of Guarico. Montilla spoke with The AP as she was nearing Bogota, Colombia's capital, after traveling with her family for 27 days.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, over 5 million Venezuelans had left their country, notes the United Nations. The poorest simply walked.
As governments across South America took action in hopes of stopping the spread of COVID-19, many migrants found themselves without work. Over 100,000 Venezuelans returned to their country, where at least they could live with family members.
Today, official land and bridge crossings between the two countries are still closed. Migrants are forced to cross the border illegally, where the roads are controlled by drug traffickers and rebel organizations like the National Liberation Army.
"The return of Venezuelan migrants is already happening even though the border is closed," said Ana Milena Guerrero. She is an official for the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian non-profit organization helping migrants.
Many Venezuelans are now forced to walk within their own country for days to reach the border because of fuel shortages.
Hernández said it took him seven days to walk from his hometown of Los Teques, Venezuela, to Colombia.
"I can't allow my daughter to be born in a place where she might have to go to bed hungry," he said.
Once the migrants arrive in Colombia, they face new problems. Colombia's rate of unemployment rose from 12 percent in March to almost 16 percent in August. Those who cannot pay for rental housing are being pushed out of their homes. More than 50 percent of all Venezuelans in Colombia are living there illegally and have no legal protection.
I'm Susan Shand.