Venezuelans stranded in Dominican Republic desperately seeking to return home

By Maria Montecelos

Santo Domingo, Oct 23 (efe-epa).- Raul, Manuel, Cecilia, Ludys… Hundreds of Venezuelans are stranded in the Dominican Republic in a desperate situation because of the coronavirus pandemic, without any way to regularize their immigration status to work legally and without the resources they need to return to their country.

They arrived in Santo Domingo before Covid-19 made it impossible for them to return home on the repatriation trips organized by the Conviasa airline, which currently charges $290 for a ticket on one of the so-called “humanitarian flights,” given that Venezuela has kept its airspace closed.

Human rights activist Guadalupa Vargas, who works to alleviate the situation of the Venezuelan diaspora, told EFE that a good part of these people are not looking to return to Venezuela because of an express wish to get back home but rather out of “desperation.”

They are without any help from anywhere, without the conditions for a dignified life and, at times, without even a place to live.

Raul Villarroel, for instance, has just moved with three countrymen into a small house with no electricity that they found in Valle Encantado, a poor part of Santo Domingo, just to have a roof over their heads.

During his three years in the Dominican Republic, Raul has worked as a tailor and basketball referee, but his irregular immigration status has prevented him from finding a regular job and he has decided that it’s better to return to Venezuela, where at least he has his own home.

“Given that the situation has become more complicated for getting papers” and also because he has been conned by fake Good Samaritans, he said that “I’m pretty disappointed.”

To top it all off, a few weeks ago he had to undergo three surgeries and, without anyone to help him, he now has no other option than to try to get a place on a repatriation flight.

With that goal in mind, he sells facemasks that he makes to get together the money he needs for his ticket, the Dominican immigration fees, the Cov9id-19 test he’ll need to take and the expenses for the quarantine that the Venezuelan government demands that all recent arrivals go through.

The Dominican Republic is the biggest Caribbean destination for Venezuelans, with 114,500 people from that country currently living there including migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, according to figures on the R4V Web site, which gathers information from assorted non-governmental organizations, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the International Organization for Immigration.

Of that total, just 7,946 Venezuelans have the “regular” immigration status, including residence permits, that is needed to get legal employment and to take advantage of the aid the Dominican government provides to workers who have been laid off due to the pandemic.

Last week, Dominican President Luis Abinader promised singer-songwriter Ricardo Montaner that he will handle the situation of Venezuelan immigrants and said that shortly he will make “an announcement on the matter that’s going to bring great calm to Venezuelan citizens,” in the artist’s words.

Meanwhile, no help is arriving and Venezuelans in an irregular situation are looking for ways to make a little money for their trips home and just to survive day to day.

That is the case of Maria Cecilia Piratova and her son Manuel, who along with the rest of their family, two other adults and three children, left Venezuela two years ago seeking “a better quality of life.”

But since they are in an irregular immigration situation, although they are highly educated, their main form of support has been selling ice cream and sandwiches on the street, attracting pretty good business in the Los Rios sector of the capital.

“We’re doing relatively well,” said Manuel, but sales have dropped by more than 50 percent amid the pandemic and the payments for rent, assorted services and schooling for the kids are mounting up to create an unsustainable situation for the family.

“It’s not easy in Venezuela either, but at least you have a roof over your head,” she said.

Ludys is in a different situation. What was to be a one-month visit to the D.R. has become a forced stay of much longer since the borders were closed in March.

“I don’t live here. I live in Venezuela,” but returning is rather costly and “I’m absolutely desperate,” she said.

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