Venezuelan migrant kids face scourge of xenophobia in South America

By Fernando Gimeno and Gonzalo Dominguez Loeda

Lima/Quito, Jun 20 (EFE).- When Adriana arrived in Peru at age 9, she had never experienced xenophobia and didn’t even know the meaning of the word.

She had left behind a severe crisis in her native Venezuela to start a new life with her parents, but like many of her young compatriots she was met with rejection because of her place of origin.

“At my school, when I arrived in Peru from Venezuela, it was really hard to adapt and I suffered xenophobia … mainly from my classmates because they saw me as different,” Adriana, now 14, told Efe. “What they did was just make fun of me.”

It’s a story that could also be told by many of the other 6.1 million Venezuelans who have left their country in recent years in search of a better life, according to figures from the United Nations, which organizes World Refugee Day every June 20.

In Peru alone, 1.3 million Venezuelans have found a new home in a country whose similarities in terms of language, culture and the labor market make them feel at home.

These migrants have contributed ideas and human capital to their host countries, yet like Adriana (who for her own safety opted not to provide her last name or city of residence) they often have also felt the pain of rejection.

In the case of this Venezuelan teenager, she has shown remarkable strength and maturity in dealing with the adversity and even says she enjoys some aspects of her schooling.

“Even though my classmates are still the same, I really enjoy my classes a lot. I don’t pay them that much attention anymore,” she said with a smile.

And despite her age, Adriana has started to become a change agent at her school, explaining to those who will listen what xenophobia is.

Elsewhere, a migrant named Wendy from the western Venezuelan state of Tachira recalled that her oldest daughter, then nine, was mistreated by her teacher when they first arrived in the southern Ecuadorian city of Loja.

“He hit, insulted and humiliated her for a month, and she didn’t say anything. She kept quiet until she exploded. During that time, her health got a lot worse. She was vomiting, she had fever, and we didn’t know what was going on,” Wendy, a mother of three children and a certified teacher in Venezuela, told Efe.

Because of the abuse, “she didn’t want to talk so that no one would know she was Venezuelan.”

The young girl has been able to put that traumatic episode behind her and gain back her smile thanks in part to the support of Plan International, a development and humanitarian organization that works in Africa, the Americas and Asia to advance children’s rights and equality for girls.

Wendy’s daughter is now 11 and her two sons are aged nine and four. The youngest was just one year old when they were forced to sneak him out of Venezuela due to a law there that prohibited the removal of minors under the age of two (designated “children of the fatherland”).

“I laid him down in a cart, I put all the suitcases on top and crossed the bridge (international crossing) walking with my other two children,” Wendy said in recalling a journey to Ecuador that took them five days by bus.

She is now one of an estimated 514,000 Venezuelans currently living in that Andean nation.

After initially working at odd jobs, Wendy opened a multi-service business three months ago with her husband after attending some Plan International employability workshops.

But her main pending task now is to regularize her immigration status.

“I’d never thought about the fear of being illegal in a country and that suddenly they might say they’re deporting us, after we’d struggled for three years to find stability. You live with that constant fear,” said Wendy, who added that she is hopeful about a new plan the Ecuadorian government announced to grant legal residency status to 300,000 Venezuelans. EFE

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