Coronavirus Lockdown is the Latest Challenge for Venezuelan Migrants


Venezuelan migrants in 2015 after crossing the border to succeed in Cúcuta, Colombia. Picture Courtesy of the Inter-American Human Rights Coalition, Daniel Cima.


April 10, 2020

Genevieve Glatsky

BOGOTÁ Anni Rojas Jiménez first heard about the coronavirus when she was touring along with her husband and brother-in-law from Lima, Peru to Bogotá, Colombia. Rojas Jiménez, who was 4 months pregnant at the time, made the journey on foot, and with the occasional experience from a passing truck.

It had been a protracted journey. They left Venezuela final July. Coming into at the Colombian border city of Cúcuta, they walked to the capital of Bogotá, the place they stay for a month earlier than transferring to Peru in September. Then her husband misplaced his job and Peru began deporting Venezuelan migrants. They returned to Bogotá, the place her husband and brother-in-law labored on the road cleansing windshields and promoting mandarin oranges. With their meager earnings they paid for a pension lodge room.

The night time earlier than Bogotá’s quarantine took impact, the proprietor of pension kicked them out. The household slept in parks and plazas for every week till a non-profit helped them safe non permanent lodging.

Rojas Jiménez is one among 1.7 million Venezuelans who’ve arrived in Colombia in recent times. Many Venezuelans have misplaced their jobs or housing as the area locks all the way down to cease the unfold of the coronavirus. The Colombian well being system will not be outfitted to deal with its personal residents and the inflow of Venezuelan residents. Going through the pandemic and financial downtown, Venezuelans ponder returning to the financial and social upheaval they fled.

In Colombia, 58 percent of current Venezuelan migrants are undocumented. Since 2017 the authorities has supplied non permanent work visas to regularize these migrants. However many Venezuelans arrived in the nation with out passports and have been unable to acquire Colombian residency.

In response to Lucia Ramirez Bolívar, migration coordinator at the human rights non-profit Dejusticia, they resort to casual sector work as road distributors, intercourse staff, or begging. Those that do discover common work typically discover themselves topic to exploitation or wage discrimination.

Since the first case of the coronavirus was identified in Colombia on March 6, the nation acted rapidly to include it. Colombia closed its borders with Venezuela on March 14 and President Iván Duque introduced a nationwide quarantine starting March 24. The measures are devastating for the nation’s casual staff, who make up over half of the economic system.

“It’s been every week and there are already many households who would not have sustenance or meals or sufficient cash for shelter or to pay the payments,” stated Arles Pereda, president of the non-profit Venezuelan Group in Colombia. “They’re reporting many instances of eviction.”

Households unable to pay hire have been evicted, and battle to fulfill their fundamental wants.

As the nationwide quarantine started, rumors unfold over WhatsApp that that authorities was distributing emergency support. These rumors proved false, however crowds of determined staff, together with Venezuelan migrants, gathered exterior metropolis halls. In Bogotá, folks shouted, “We’re hungry!”

Final week the authorities pledged to ship a one-time money switch of about 160,000 pesos, about $40, to 3 million of the nation’s casual staff and to extend funds to recipients of current authorities welfare packages. They haven’t talked about any help for Venezuelan migrants.

Alejandro Velasco, who researches democratization and social actions in Latin America at New York College, says that in this unprecedented second of disaster it is unlikely that governments are going to prioritize them.

“These nations like Colombia, Ecuador and to a lesser extent Bolivia are already in precarious positions economically and financially,” Velasco stated. “They’re extra prone to privilege these amongst its casual sector staff who’re residents. However then that would have a spillover impact by way of different kinds of populations who usually are not coated underneath these phrases.”

In nation with 13 million informal workers, about 60 percent of the workforce, the current measures will go away behind even Colombian nationals, stated Sergio Guzmán, director of Colombia Threat Evaluation.

“The non permanent reduction that the authorities is giving is constructive and is properly thought-out,” he stated. “However in the end it’s not going to be adequate to fulfill the wants of this inhabitants who’re rising in desperation.”

Geoff Ramsey, Director for Venezuela at the Washington Workplace for Latin America, stated that whereas Colombia is deservedly praised for its response to Venezuelan migration, vital shortcomings stay. He is important of the nation’s “patchwork of non permanent permits,” the limitations of which at the moment are coming to mild.

“This is a inhabitants that’s rather more weak not solely to the pandemic but in addition to exploitation and abuse,” stated Ramsey. “I believe this is a second the place the Colombian authorities can put its cash the place its mouth is and actually emphasize the significance of extending a minimum of entry to formal standing to the over half of Venezuelans that lack it in Colombia right now.”

As of Friday morning, Colombia has 2,223 instances of COVID-19 and 69 deaths. The statistics don’t break down the nationality and migration standing of the sufferers, so it’s inconceivable to know what number of of these instances are migrants. Pereda says that he doesn’t know of any confirmed instances of COVID-19 amongst weak Venezuelans, however he has seen a number of suspected instances. As in lots of nations, testing is not extensively out there.

In Colombia, residents both obtain personal medical insurance, bought individually or by way of an employer, or government-subsidized healthcare that covers low-income and unemployed folks. Undocumented folks can entry emergency care however would not have entry to remedy for power circumstances like HIV.

On Monday, the Workplace of the President printed a six-point plan for addressing the wants of migrants in its COVID-19 response. The plan ensures Venezuelan migrants the similar care as Colombian residents and that humanitarian organizations and native authorities would work collectively to create isolation zones for these unable to self-isolate. The plan additionally contains distributing meals to 800,000 migrants in 40 municipalities and known as on worldwide organizations to supply further help.

The excessive price of casual labor will increase the chance that staff will violate quarantine measures to promote items out of desperation, resulting in larger charges of transmission, says Jhon James Mora, director of the Universidad Icesi’s Division of Economics. He factors out that informality is a persistent drawback in Colombia, going again years.

As for Rojas Jiménez, she and her household have a roof over their head for now. However with out work, they battle with starvation.

“Yesterday I didn’t eat all day,” she stated. “Finally the proprietor of the home the place we’re gave me a plate of meals.”

Now seven months pregnant, she has but to obtain any prenatal care. Rojas Jiménez and her husband are debating transferring again to Venezuela, a rustic ill-equipped to deal with a pandemic, with longstanding medication, meals and energy shortages. However with a lot of Colombia’s transport shut down, they must stroll.

In the event that they resolve to make the journey, they might be part of thousands of other Venezuelans leaving the nation. Quarantine measures throughout Latin America are leaving numerous migrants with out earnings, meals, or shelter. Many are making the excruciating calculation of whether or not or to not return to Venezuela the place they may a minimum of have a roof over their head and a help community.

Venezuelans who return are forcibly quarantined in empty colleges and different buildings, often without beds, working water or dependable electrical energy. Some are escorted to crowded bus terminals and wait for days with out meals, masks or hand sanitizer.

“We’re ready to see what occurs with this quarantine to see if we’re actually going to return to our nation,” stated Rojas Jiménez. “I wish to give start there as a result of I don’t know what is going to occur right here. I’ve by no means confronted a scenario like this.”

Banner picture used underneath Artistic Commons, through Flickr.


Genevieve Glatsky

Genevieve Glatsky is a contract journalist based mostly in Bogotá, Colombia.