By Carla Samon Ros
Aguas Verdes, Peru, May 12 (EFE).- A mixture of gambling and discretion, as well as the arbitrariness of the police on duty are the factors determining the immediate fate of hundreds of Venezuelan migrants who each day try to cross from Peru into Ecuador over a chaotic bridge, where the Venezuelan crisis is much in evidence and human trafficking is an ongoing business.
The tension is everywhere. Hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of people come to the bridge each day. Most of them are Venezuelans who have either just arrived in Peru but want to move on or have been in Peru for a while but are now wanting to try to make a living in Ecuador.
Not far away, about 30 migrants are resting and taking shelter from the intense sun under a wooden roof. One of them is singing children’s songs with his two small boys, while the three older kids are taking a dip in a dirty canal a few meters from the bus terminal.
A few hours ago, they crossed the bridge connecting the Peruvian town of Aguas Verdes with the Ecuadorian city of Huaquillas, a bridge – since mid-February and after being closed for almost two years due to the pandemic, is now allowing citizens of the two countries to cross.
Passage is not allowed for Venezuelans, but this family was lucky and the police didn’t stop them despite the fact that they were carrying three big bags, pushing a baby stroller and had two dogs with them, the things they had been traveling with for three years since they left their homeland.
“We stayed for a while in Cali, for a time in Bogota, in Medellin, until we decided to go to Ecuador. We’ve been there for about two weeks and came to Peru because we were looking to make money faster, working,” Gladys Hurtado, the mother of the family, told EFE.
Their idea was to head to Lima, the city that is home to the largest expatriate community of Venezuelans but, during their trip, the children got sick and her husband fell off a cargo truck. “He broke his leg and now he needs an operation,” she said.
So, at least for a few days, they will live on the streets of Tumbes, the largest city in the area, “selling … candies and lollipops.”
“We’ll see what awaits us here and, if not, we’ll go back,” she said.
In Peru – which, after Colombia, is the country that has received the second highest number of Venezuelans, 1.3 million – “Venezuelan migration collapsed in 2019,” the regional manager for Tumbes Social Development, Luis Alfonzo Cerna, told EFE.
In that year, via only the Binational Center for Border Attention (Cebaf), a daily average of 3,000 Venezuelans entered Peru. Today, the regional government says that between 55 and 75 people are entering legally each day.
But these numbers are far from the true figures, given that to cross the border legally at this point migrants need passports, humanitarian visas and be able to prove that they’re fully vaccinated against Covid-19, prerequisites which practically nobody can fulfill.
Thus, the bridge linking Aguas Verdes with Huaquillas and the clandestine border crossing points in the vicinity are, far and away, the most common strategies for illegally entering or leaving Peru.
And therefore, it’s impossible to know precisely how many people are actually crossing the border, a flow that no doubt is smaller than three years ago but which has not ceased.
On the ground, international agencies make estimates for the numbers crossing the border, but their figures differ. Estimates are that a total of between 300 and 1,600 people cross the frontier each day both legally and illegally.
If the estimates agree on anything, it’s that of all the people crossing the border each day, approximately 60 percent are entering Peru while the remaining 40 percent are entering Ecuador.
Jonathan Hurtado is in the latter group, and EFE found him resting on a porch on the Plaza de Armas in Huaquillas along with his wife and their two children, ages 8 and 10, surrounded by backpacks, suitcases, blankets and stuffed animals.
The four have been sleeping here for days, having – Hurtado said – arrived here “via trails” and at the mercy of the “coyotes” (people smugglers) who run the “dirty business” of helping people illegally cross international borders.
They walked here from Lima, some 1,290 kilometers (800 miles) and they don’t know what their final destination will be although, for now, returning to Venezuela is not an option, and so they are debating whether to try for Ecuador or Colombia.