Venezuelan migrants struggle to forge new life in Peru border region

By Carla Samon Ros

Tumbes, Peru, May 25 (EFE).- A place of transit or a permanent home, a poverty trap or land of opportunity, a place of xenophobia or of solidarity.

For Venezuelan exiles making their way in a steady stream to northwestern Peru, the region of Tumbes is a bittersweet tapestry where all of these disparate realities coexist simultaneously.

One of these migrants, 38-year-old foreman Michel Diaz, left his crisis-hit homeland three months ago and recently arrived in Peru with his wife and three daughters.

Carrying a single backpack with just enough space for eight changes of clothing, some money and food, they embarked on a journey lasting more than 90 days and covering 3,300 kilometers (2,050 miles), a distance comparable to a trek from Barcelona to Moscow.

As a new arrival, Diaz is now earning money selling sweets in Tumbes city’s Plaza de Armas, while he and his loved ones are forced to sleep out in the elements on the porch of a dilapidated, unoccupied old house.

His initial plan was to settle in Ecuador, but he says the “physical, verbal and psychological abuse” he suffered at the hands of police made him decide to continue on to Peru, an Andean nation whose population of Venezuelan migrants (1.3 million) is the second-biggest worldwide after Colombia.

They arrived in the Tumbes region via clandestine routes controlled by organized crime groups, who charge a fee to smugglers and undocumented migrants looking to skirt border patrols.

The regular use of those illegal crossings makes it practically impossible to put a precise figure on the number of migrants entering Peru on a daily basis, although international organizations estimate the number at between 300 and 1,500.

The regional government says Tumbes is the second-leading destination after Lima for Venezuelan migrants entering Peru via its northern border, estimating that as many as 13,000 Venezuelan migrants – or 4 percent of that region’s population – have taken up residence there.

One neighborhood stands out as a migrant destination in Tumbes – a street in the tourist resort of Puerto Pizarro that is popularly known as Calle Venezuela.

Escarlet Johana Añes was one of the first migrants to settle on that street when it was nothing but a series of vacant lots. Now, precarious wood constructions or tarp shelters line the road, which is home to around 100 Venezuelan families.

Añes spends most of her time serving as a liaison between her neighbors and local non-governmental organizations that work to improve living conditions for migrants.

She works to obtain places for migrant children in local schools, raises funds for those in need of hospital treatment or medications and donates baskets of fruit and milk to children of Venezuelan migrant families living outside the main urban areas.

Most residents of Calle Venezuela work in the fishing or tourism sector in the seaside resort of Puerto Pizarro, where on one late afternoon a dozen young people, most of them migrants, could be seen hauling boxes filled with fish and ice – work that earns them around one sol ($0.27) per trip.

Nearby, Nelly Rebolledo, a 48-year-old Venezuelan migrant, prepared slices of fried plantains. She said she works 12 hours a day and makes just 15 soles for her efforts.

The regional government said that, though restricted by a limited budget, it is doing its utmost to promote the inclusion of Venezuelan migrants, improve their living conditions and forge peaceful, social coexistence between the local and foreign-born populations.

To that end, it says it is taking steps in partnership with international organizations that include labor insertion projects for Venezuelans and efforts to facilitate the validation of the professional titles they earned in their homeland. EFE


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