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Forced back home by the pandemic, Venezuelan grandmother sees no choice but to flee once again

With lockdown making it all but impossible for many Venezuelan refugees and migrants to meet their basic needs, thousands have headed home – only to have to flee again.

Migrants near Budapest

When Rosalba* decided to flee her native Venezuela, she never imagined she would end up facing so many hardships abroad that returning home would eventually come to seem like her only viable option.


But three years after the 48-year old grandmother and her family left the bustling Venezuelan port city of Maracaibo, seeking safety in neighbouring Colombia, the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for them to make ends meet. With the spectre of hunger and imminent eviction looming large, they took the wrenching decision to make the risky trip back home.

“When I left Venezuela, it was unliveable,” said Rosalba, referring to the situation in 2017, when she, her two adult children and two granddaughters fled to the Colombian seaside city of Barranquilla. “When I returned, it was worse.”

Rosalba would spend just a month in Venezuela before fleeing yet again, forced out by the deteriorating situation at home.

“It was a nightmare, a total nightmare.”

With Latin America hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and lockdown and other restrictions taking a terrible economic and social toll throughout the region, tens of thousands of the estimated 5.4 million Venezuelans refugees and migrants living abroad have taken the drastic step of returning home over the past months.

Driven by many of the same factors that pushed Rosalba and her family to leave – penury and potential eviction – many have made the dangerous journey by whatever means possible, by bus, hitchhiking or even by foot, from as far away as Ecuador or Peru. The already difficult trip has been made that much harder by pandemic-related border closures that have forced many to resort to clandestine crossings that put them at even greater risk.

READ  Amid 2020 pandemic IOM supported over 2,500 migrants with voluntary return from Greece

While the exact number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants who have returned home amid the pandemic is not known, Colombia’s migration authority estimates that more than 122,000 people have ignored the ongoing border closure between the two countries to cross back into Venezuela as of late November.

But like Rosalba, many of those who returned home during the pandemic have packed their bags and left once again amid the continued deterioration of conditions inside Venezuela. Insecurity in the country is spiralling, and food and medicine shortages have worsened, as have fuel shortages and power outages. Already on the rise, the number of Venezuelans leaving the country is expected to climb significantly in the coming months, as some lockdown measures are eased in other countries throughout the region.

“The coronavirus changed everything.”

Before the pandemic, Rosalba’s life in Colombia had been slowly but steadily improving.

She found work caring for an elderly woman with a disability in Barranquilla, while her son supplemented the family income by working as a street vendor and occasional auto mechanic. After the pandemic hit, stay-at-home measures aimed at staunching the spread of COVID-19 meant that he could no longer go outside to sell his wares, leaving the family to try to scrape by on Rosalba’s modest salary. Their expenses outpaced her income, making food scarce and rent money increasingly hard to come by as the pandemic dragged on.

“The coronavirus changed everything,” Rosalba recalled, adding, “It shattered our happiness and made it so we had no choice but to return to Venezuela. At least there, we have our house, so we weren’t at risk of finding ourselves on the streets.”

READ  Redouble efforts in implementing GCM, protecting migrants' human rights- UN Secretary General tasks members, partners

With official border crossings between Colombia and Venezuela closed since March, the family relied on smugglers to usher them across a clandestine crossing, where they fell victim to criminals who prey upon those returning, stealing their meagre belongings and whatever money they might have.

“It was a nightmare, a total nightmare,” Rosalba said, with a shudder. “Late at night, a group of people stopped the truck and stole our belongings. We were so scared and were just praying that they wouldn’t kill us.”

Despite how hard the trip back had proved, she ended up staying in Venezuela for only a month before returning once again to Colombia.

She said things in Venezuela had “changed so much” even since she and her family left for the first time, in 2017.

“There’s no gas, so you have to go everywhere on foot,” she said, recalling her weeks back in Maracaibo last August. “I said to myself, ‘you can’t live here. At least in Barranquilla, I’ll be able to feed us.’”

And so, in September, Rosalba returned to Barranquilla, and to her former job as a home caregiver, by herself. She spent two days sleeping in a bus station in a border town before she was able to get in touch with her employer, who sent her the money for a bus ticket back to Barranquilla. She is now working off the advance even as she scrapes together remittances to send to her family back in Maracaibo.

Still, Rosalba is among the lucky ones. Many of the Venezuelans who have made the draining back-and-forth journey arrive in their host countries with little more than the clothes on their backs, even as they now face even slimmer prospects due to the often-devastating impact the pandemic has had on the communities that had welcomed Venezuelans refugees and migrants in years past.

READ  Almost 400 migrants relocated from Italy since September

In response, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is already stepping up its presence in border regions, providing emergency shelters and expanding health and psychosocial support services and cash transfer programmes. This week, 158 humanitarian organizations launched a US$1.44 billion plan to respond to the growing needs both of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as to the needs of the communities hosting them.

Asked about her state of mind in the wake of the jarring back-and-forth journey to safety, Rosalba said she has very mixed feelings.

“On the one hand, I’m happy to be in Colombia and to be able to provide for my family,” she said, adding that “on the other hand, it’s just so wrenching to be apart.”

*Name has been changed for protection reasons.

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Dominican Republic, IOM clear hurdles for 100,000 Venezuelan migrants

The Migration Normalization Plan will allow Venezuelans living irregularly in the Dominican Republic to work, move without risk of deportation, open bank accounts and join the country’s social security system.  Photo: IOM / Francesco Spotorno

 

 

Santo Domingo – The first group of almost 100,000 Venezuelan migrants without legal status in the Dominican Republic have received visas allowing them to work, open bank accounts and join the social security system under the country’s Migration Normalization Plan.

Created by the Dominican government and launched with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the plan aims to regularize the Venezuelan population in three stages: application for extension of stay, visa, and residency. Since April, when the first phase began, 43,000  Venezuelans have registered to extend their stay and, on 1 July, the first group of 21 Venezuelans received their work visa.

“Now that I have my visa, I feel that for others like me a lot of opportunities are opening. We will be able to establish more safely and formally to offer a better future to our children,” says Gabriela Rivero, who arrived in the country with her husband and daughter in 2018.  “Once we settled, we did not imagine how difficult it would be to get a job because the lack of documentation closed all doors.”

READ  Ex-Canada immigration boss, IOM, others for JIFORM's summit

Since 2019 Gabriela has led a support organization for Venezuelan migrants in Santiago de los Caballeros called FEV (Fundación Emigrantes de Venezuela), which offers free orientation and helps hundreds of migrants daily to complete their normalization plan applications.

With IOM support, eight Venezuelan migrant organizations have created orientation hubs to assist the Venezuelan population who are applying to the plan. Of the 43,000  registered through the General Directorate of Migration (DGM) web page, around 9,000 have visited the hubs for help on the procedure. The promoters and coordinators of each hub – mostly Venezuelan migrants – have learned the process with the support and guidance of the DGM team and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MIREX). Besides being trained for orientation, they became the pilot group of the plan to receive their extensions and visas.

“The idea of this process is that we are the ones at the front of the hubs, a migrant helping a migrant, a Venezuelan helping a Venezuelan,” says Iván Carrera, a lawyer from Caracas and legal adviser of FUNCOVERD (Fundación Colonia de Venezolanos en RD). Carrera works as a promoter at the orientation hub in El Sambil Santo Domingo, one of the locations with the most people requesting support for their application.

READ  Hundreds of thousands of people leave Britain due to pandemic

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IOM launches open South America portal

International Organisation of Migration (

Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open South America, available in SpanishEnglish and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.

The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.

The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.

READ  Over 6,000 stranded migrants assisted back home through EU support

Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.

“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.

“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.

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29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM

The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.

About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.

Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.

He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.

Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.

READ  Migrants' remittances drop by over  $100b - UN Chief 

“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”

International Organisation of Migration (

Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.

“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.

Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.

The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.

READ  Amid 2020 pandemic IOM supported over 2,500 migrants with voluntary return from Greece

 

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