More than 4.6 million people have fled Venezuela due to hyperinflation and shortages of food, water, and electricity, according to the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Those who remain in the country face a crumbling health system and shortages of basic necessities.
The majority of migrants who have been forced to flee are resettling in neighboring countries including Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, where their futures are uncertain due to changing government regulations, xenophobia, and high unemployment rates. According to estimates, 90% of Venezuelans live under the poverty line.
Abuse and exploitation of women and girls migrating from Venezuela has reached alarming levels. An analysis of the Venezuela-Colombia border found troubling indications of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls at informal border crossings. They face extremely high risk of abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and being compelled into transactional sex as a means of survival.
people have fled Venezuela
“Venezuelans forced to leave their homes as their country implodes are suffering enough already,” said Tatiana Bertolucci, CARE Regional Director of Latin America and the Caribbean. “The humanitarian community urgently needs to ramp up efforts to prevent and respond to the abuse and exploitation of people who are simply searching for better lives for themselves and their families. Women and girls … have already borne the brunt of this crisis.”
CARE is providing assistance to vulnerable Venezuelans and the communities hosting them in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. On a recent trip to assess the crisis, we spoke to migrants making their way through South America. These photos provide a glimpse of their journey.
Sinai, 17, holds her daughter Nicole, 4, as they begin their walk across Ecuador. At the time, they were 11 days into their journey and unable to take one of the official buses at the border, designated for migrants, as they were without documents. Their IDs, along with their belongings, were stolen at the Venezuelan border.
“Our only option is to walk,” Sinai says. She wrapped Nicole’s feet in tin foil to keep her warm along the journey.
Rogelys, 35, fled from Venezuela to Ecuador with her four children: Roxelis, 16 (top right), bottom from right — Dillam, 12, Darwin, 6, and Diego, 9.
Although she had a full-time job, due to hyperinflation Rogelys’ monthly salary was only enough to purchase about 4.5 pounds of cassava, one tomato, and one onion a month — enough for one meal for her children. The family became malnourished due to such an extreme lack of food.
“I couldn’t bear the economic situation. My children were getting worse every day,” Rogelys says. “When you would look at the kids, you could see their little bones.”
Rogelys and the children each packed a small bag and made their way to Huaquillas, an Ecuadorian town on the border of Peru, where the family now lives.
Franklin and Marisbel wait to board a bus at the Colombia-Ecuador border with their 2-year-old son and 2-month-old daughter.
The family owned a hamburger fast food truck, but were unable to afford basic necessities in Venezuela, causing them to flee. They had no money for bus tickets, but provided a box of food to the driver in exchange for staying in the bus’ washroom during the drive to Colombia. From there, the family hitchhiked and walked into Ecuador, stopping at various towns along the way.
“We always sleep outside. Sometimes we sleep on the porch of a building. We have slept on the roadside,” Marsibel says. “I couldn’t imagine the trip would be like this… so many days and such a journey.”
The trip has taken the family 25 days so far, and the road ahead is long, as they plan to resettle in Uruguay — nearly 4,000 miles away.
A group of migrants walk down a road in Ecuador’s Chota Valley, two hours from the Colombian border, carrying their belongings. While walking, a local resident informed them of an Ecuadorian woman who has opened her home to migrants. The young men changed their course to make a pitstop for a warm meal and a place to spend the night.
A group of migrants get into the back of a truck in Ecuador’s Chota Valley, near the Colombian border. As migrants travel further south throughout the continent, some have been able to purchase a ticket to take the bus, either through their own means or with the assistance of humanitarian agencies.
Others travel by foot, hitchhiking when possible. Some drivers stop along roads to invite migrants to ride at the back of their trucks.
After losing his job in Venezuela, Josef* fled the country. He took a bus to the border with Colombia, where he spent eight months working precarious jobs. He then walked to Quito, Ecuador, hoping for better prospects, a journey which took him nine days by foot — a record, he’s been told.
During the trek, Josef experienced homophobia, like many other LGBTQ migrants. In one incident, while seeking shelter from the rain, he was chased away by a woman yelling homophobic slurs at him.
Josef now lives in Quito, Ecuador, and sells energy drinks to get by.
“If I’m lucky, I will get $5 a day and I’ll be able to eat and sleep,” he says.
When he can afford it, he rents a room for the night, or otherwise sleeps on a park bench, despite the danger.
Esmirna, 21, and her children, Luinyelber, 3, and Eulimar, 1, enter into Ecuador at the Rumichaca border crossing and wait to board a bus to the Peruvian border.
The family has been traveling by bus and sleeping on the streets. “We were robbed two weeks ago and my son has been wearing the same thing ever since,” Esmirna says. “We have spent nights feeling cold, but these are the only clothes we have.”
Esmirna, Luinyelber, and Eulimar, reunited with her husband and the children’s father, Eulises, 23, at the Ecuadorian border with Peru. The family is crossing into Peru, where Esmirna’s sister has been living for the last year and is waiting to welcome them. Eulises hopes to find paid work so he can support the family as they start a new life.
*Name has been changed
Updated November 26, 2019