Staying or leaving: the dilemma for Venezuelan migrants amid Covid-19 crisis

By Daniela Brik

Quito, Apr 16 (efe-epa).- Venezuelan migrants face the dilemma of risking hunger, lack of work and the advancing Covid-19 pandemic or retracing their steps back to their home country.

Thousands of displaced citizens from the crisis-hit nation are facing this impossible decision throughout Latin America, especially in countries such as Ecuador.

Ricardo Castillo, who lives in southern Quito, says his family does not have enough to eat despite the food assistance they receive.

“We are at home taking care of ourselves and we have paid a month (of rent), but we do not even have enough to eat. The only help we have received was a lunch cover,” he explains.

Like many other Venezuelans, thousands according to NGOs, he plans to return to his country, this time fleeing not from a humanitarian crisis but from the outbreak.

The trip will be particularly arduous as the journey will have to be made on foot, plagued by hunger, poverty and health services that cannot cope with the threat of the virus.

Castillo has lived in Ecuador for almost two years with his wife and two children, aged 10 and 11, but says they have no choice but to return to their birth country.

“Because we no longer have a stable job. Yes, we are going to leave,” says the former construction worker.

Their route is unclear but Castillo says they have been offered help to get to Cúcuta, a city on the border between Colombia and Venezuela.

In Colombia the government has announced a humanitarian corridor to allow Venezuelans to travel from Cali, in the southwest, back to their home country but no such scheme exists in Ecuador.

Ecuadorian authorities closed the land borders in mid-March, when a state of emergency was declared over the pandemic, banning the entry or exit of anyone, regardless of their nationality.

Ecuador’s interior minister María Paula Romo tells Efe there is concern about people who want to travel from Peru to Ecuador and from Ecuador to Colombia to return to Venezuela.

She says that providing a corridor like in neighbouring Colombia “is not something that has been analysed and at this moment the Colombian border with Ecuador is closed”.

Official crossings between Peru and Colombia have been closed and the military has clamped down on up to 200 illegal points of entry, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The situation has led to many Venezuelans leaving Ecuador, which has been one of the worst affected countries in the area with around 8,000 confirmed infections and 390 deaths.

Virginia Ruiz, 33, from Falcón State in Venezuela, tells Efe that she survives on $10 a day which she earns delivering food on a bike between 8 am and 2 pm when a curfew takes effect.

“There are many people who want to go back because the companies have closed due to the coronavirus and they have no savings,” she adds.

Daniel Regalado, director of the Civil Association of Venezuela in Ecuador, says that beyond the problems of quarantines and a lack of medical care, Venezuelans are facing famine.

Many have also suffered forced evictions due to the impossibility of paying rent or are trapped in their homes because landlords have threatened to take back the property or remove their belongings if they leave.

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