By Carla Samon Ros
Puerto Pizarro, Peru, May 20 (EFE).- Either seek out charitable aid or forgo essential medical care.
That is the plight facing thousands of migrants from crisis-hit Venezuela who have made their way to the neglected northwestern Peruvian border region of Tumbes, where those undocumented foreigners have limited access to health and educational services and must rely on others to provide a helping hand.
One person forced to rely on people’s goodwill was Eliot Garcia, a Venezuelan migrant in the Tumbes seaside town of Puerto Pizarro who found in the tourism industry not only an economic lifeline but also life-saving solidarity after suffering a heart attack four years ago.
“My tourism colleagues raised a sum of money and sent me to the hospital … I got a bill for 7,000 soles (around $1,900),” the man told Efe on board the vessel he uses to offer boat trips in the waters off that Pacific resort.
His story is not an exception in that region near the Ecuadorian border.
Enlisting the solidarity of others is often the only path to accessing expensive medical services in Tumbes, a region that, according to figures from international agencies, sees the daily arrival and departure of between 300 and 1,500 Venezuelan migrants.
A community leader in Puerto Pizarro, Venezuela’s Escarlet Johana, lamented in remarks to Efe that many of her fellow countrymen in that region have come to her in a desperate bid for help.
Recently, she said one female Venezuelan migrant needed medical assistance for postpartum depression. “We had to go out and seek help to pay for the hospitalization and medications.”
Peru’s health care system claims to provide free medical service to all minors aged five and under, HIV/AIDS patients and pregnant women, including those in need of care up to 41 days after giving birth, irrespective of the patient’s immigration status.
But those lofty promises are not fulfilled in practice. The Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venzuela (R4V), estimates that only 3.6 percent of Venezuelan children five and under received medical care in Peru in 2020 and the first half of last year.
Two of the causative factors are xenophobia and the structural deficiencies of Peru’s health system, although the Covid-19 crisis further exacerbated those problems.
“Unfortunately, the administrative processes and repercussions of the pandemic put the structures of Peru’s health system in a delicate position,” the general coordinator of Paris-based Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Peru, Jean Hereu, told Efe.
He said the MSF and other international organizations have set up medical stations along the Peru-Ecuador border where they provide health care guidance and first aid to migrants.
Hereu said 30 percent of the patients they see are pregnant women and 24 percent are minors five years or younger.
But Tumbes’ regional social development manager, Luis Alfonso Cerna, told Efe that the Tumbes government is working diligently to provide health care and education to the entire migrant population.
He said that at the moment 2,050 young Venezuelan children and adolescents are enrolled at different schools in that department.
That figure represents around 50 percent of all Venezuelan minors living in the region, according to the humanitarian aid, relief and development non-governmental organization International Rescue Committee, which says around 2,000 others have been left out of the educational system due to lack of school capacity.
Cerna says the region’s shortfalls in education and health care are due to a lack of assistance from the national government and that Tumbes has sought international cooperation to meet their funding needs.
Nevertheless, the R4V says international aid also has been insufficient in Peru, with that platform’s Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP) in that Andean nation last year having received only 34 percent of the $274 million of funds requested.