July 23, 2019
Latest News

Venezuelans in Ecuador, a portrait of their homeland's hunger, poverty

By Daniela Brik

Tulcan, Ecuador, Jun 16 (efe-epa).- A starving man, wearing soot-stained threadbare clothes and shoes, walks alone carrying a sleeping mat, toward the Rumichaca Bridge linking Ecuador and Colombia, one of the gateways to hope for Venezuelans who are fleeing the hunger and poverty of their homeland.

With sunken cheeks and skin burned by the sun and the harsh weather in the Andean mountains, Fredy Ramon Castillo, 60, has traveled more than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) in eight days from Valencia, Venezuela, to the main entry point into Ecuador.

"My pay wasn't enough to buy medicine and I decided to leave Venezuela to help my mother," he said before bursting into tears over his situation, which is little different from that of his 2,000-3,000 countrymen, up to 5,000 on peak days, who are crossing into Ecuador over the bridge looking for a better life.

Just in 2018, more than a million Venezuelans crossed the border here, of whom more than 220,000 did not register their departure at official crossing points, according to government figures.

Over the past five years, Venezuela has been mired in an ever-worsening economic crisis aggravated by growing scarcities of food, medicine, basic products and services - such as electricity and potable water. And these problems, along with the lack of security, have spurred more than four million citizens to abandon their country, the largest and fastest exodus of people in the recent history of Latin America.

Ecuador has received the fourth-largest number of Venezuelans in Latin America - after Colombia, Peru and Chile - and is presently housing more than 300,000 of them, a figure that could approach half a million by the end of this year, according to the Foreign Ministry in Quito.

It is also the Latin American country that has taken in the most emigrants in proportion to its size and population.

Every day about 20 buses arrive from Colombia carrying desperate Venezuelans, although many people are migrating on foot alone or in groups, like one group of half a dozen men and women in their 20s, who were at the border, almost faint with hunger and exhaustion, two babies in their care, pulling two wheeled suitcases and lugging several other bundles of belongings.

"We started 19 days ago," Edison Mendoza, accompanied by his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter half-asleep in his lap, told EFE.

He said his aim was to get to the Peruvian capital, where he has relatives, "because not having anything to eat (at home) motivated us to come all this way, and the rest we still have to cover."

According to a recent report on the migrant flow by the World Migration Organization, 54.4 percent of the Venezuelans in Ecuador took 1-7 days to get to the Ecuadorian border at a cost of between $100-$500 each.

Some 46.3 percent of them travel alone, 42.9 percent with relatives and 10.6 percent with non-family members, and 33.8 percent of those surveyed on the border said they wanted to remain in Ecuador, 52.3 percent want to settle in Peru and 12.4 percent in Chile.

The overall profile of the migrants at this point is shifting from that of recent years, according to international organizations, with an increase in women (44.7 percent) and 43.6 percent of the migrants having graduated from high school, although in previous years there had been a greater percentage of graduates.

"We can say that during the first phase of the movement it was heads of families, and for a year now they've had some economic resources and can reunite their families," Vladimir Velasco, the district director for Ecuador's Social Inclusion Ministry in the border city of Tulcan, near Rumichaca, told EFE.

Ecuadorian authorities have noted that some 2.5 percent of the Venezuelans - especially children - who arrive at the border crossing station do not have the proper documents.

The first thing many of the refugees do when they enter Ecuador is post themselves on a street corner with a sign reading: "I'm Venezuelan. I'm hungry. Please help me."

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