Monday, March 27, 2023

Venezuelans find refuge, solidarity in Colombia

Waiting in line

Venezuelan migrants wait in line to have their registration number and details checked before receiving their lunch. The UN’s World Food Program serves food three times a day.

Hanging out to dry

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Rows of tents provided by the UNCHR for the refugees line the reception center in Maicao, providing as much comfort as is possible in these circumstances.

Looking for a way out

The recently inaugurated reception center in Maicao in the La Guajira region — a collaboration between the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency and the Colombian authorities — is the first of its kind in Colombia. Local and national government agencies called on the UNHCR for aid because of the steady influx of Venezuelan migrants and refugees crossing the border into Maicao.

Lack of purpose

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Domingo Antonio Fernandez Lopez, a 72-year-old former journalist and professor, used to hear about and see refugees in the news, but never thought he would end up in a shelter as well. Having worked most of his life, he now feels useless. Every morning he gets up, waits to have breakfast, and waters the area near the entrance of his tent because the dust is affecting his lungs and eyes.

Hoping for a better life

Rusmari Luna Pereira brought a bracelet with her from Venezuela her mother made for her for the trip. She had to leave with her children because she couldn’t provide for them anymore. She said some people in Venezuela give their children to other families, others abandoned them on the streets. She said she found those stories hard to believe but now understands how desperate some of them are.

Dreaming of home

Rosmery Castillo left Venezuela a month ago with two of her children and left a third with her brother. She was a nurse in Valencia but her minimum wage was wiped out by high inflation, leaving her with almost nothing to buy food. She plans to return to Venezuela as soon as the situation improves to be with her mother and grandmother, who she had to leave behind.

Sharing the will to survive

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Rosmery Castillo (34, left) and Vanesa Añez Añez (19) did not know each other when they both arrived at the UNHCR reception center at the same time. They were placed in a tent to share.

A helping hand

A Colombian Red Cross clinic at the reception center caters to health issues the migrants and refugees may suffer from such as lung problems caused by the dust from the La Guajira Desert.

Solidarity and understanding

Xenophobia is always hovering in the background, but La Guajira has a historical connection with Maracaibo in Venezuela. Many people from La Guajira moved to Venezuela during the Colombian FARC conflict. There is solidarity among people of both sides. There are also many IDPs in Colombia, who understand what it is like for the Venezuelans to be in this predicament.

Taking the legal route

The official crossing between Colombia and Venezuela is marked by a few fences and soldiers standing guard. There is one official way to cross between Colombia and Venezuela, but some 150 illegal shortcuts, many of which end right in front of the official crossing.



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