LOS PATIOOS, Colombia (AP) — Arbelys Briceño spotted chicken soup in a plastic container in front of her. It’s the first hot meal she’s had in a few days. She started eating slowly, almost hesitantly, but then she picked up her pace.
From her hometown in Venezuela, it was the 8th day of the 14-year-old girl’s journey to Peru, which she couldn’t map, but which her brother had set as a destination. Mosquitoes were marking her feet. The sun burned her face.
“It’s like a vacation, but it takes a lot of walking,” Arbelys said with a far more optimistic outlook than most Venezuelan immigrants trying to escape poverty in a once-prosperous country.
About 6.8 million Venezuelans have left their homeland since the economic crisis hit full swing in 2014 in a country of about 28 million Venezuelans. Most went to countries near Latin America and the Caribbean, with more than 2.4 million in Colombia, where Arbelys and her brother paused on their trek.
Because the pandemic has robbed economic opportunities and complicated travel across the region, and because Venezuela’s socialist government has slowed the country’s economic free fall and adopted reforms that have shown signs of a resurgence, its mass migration slowed down.
About 150,000 Venezuelans have returned to their homelands at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, with some host countries reporting a decline in total Venezuelan immigration for the first time in years, according to United Nations estimates.
But the outward march is increasing again.
At least 753,000 Venezuelans have left for another country in Latin America or the Caribbean since November, according to host country data, even as President Nicolas Maduro’s government continues to tout economic growth. I left my country. Columbia, who has not reported updated figures since November, from that month he recorded around 635,000 jumps between now and August.
By the time Arbelys, her sister and brother arrived in Columbia, they had walked some 370 miles (600 km). She couldn’t sleep one night—they stayed on the sidewalk and she was startled by a noise.As she walked down a muddy back road to cross the border, she slipped and fell twice.
On her second trip, her brother knew not to let the harsh sun dry his skin.
Outside the Soup Kitchen at Los Patios, about 4.7 miles inland in Colombia, migrants crowd around outdoor tables as the chain-link fence door opens.
Some have learned from friends and other immigrants about the surgery in which the cook prepared over 40 gallons of soup for one meal at two locations.
Fundación Nueva Ilusión coordinator Jhon Alvarez said he’s increasingly seeing familiar faces in soup kitchens.
“People are coming back to Venezuela from other countries like Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, but after 15 days or a month they can’t stand it and come back,” Alvarez said.
He said they told him They raised the minimum wage, yes they did, but there are no jobs. ”
According to the United Nations High Commissioner’s Office in Venezuela, 48% of migrants surveyed by a network of aid agencies cited lack of employment and low wages as the main reasons for leaving Venezuela, while 40% cited food and basic services. said it is difficult to obtain for refugees.
President Maduro has taken steps to stem Venezuela’s economic decline, chief among them the end of tight foreign exchange controls, leading to a de facto switch from the Venezuelan bolivar to the US dollar. This ended years of hyperinflationary cycles and eased chronic shortages.
In the capital, Caracas, stores such as restaurants, imported goods stores, and exercise studios have opened. President Maduro recently said the country’s economy has grown by 17.4% in his first three months of 2022.
However, Venezuela still has one of the highest inflation rates in the world, with about three-quarters of the population living on less than $1.90 a day, the international standard for extreme poverty. Many people do not have access to clean running water and electricity.
“Hope is the last thing lost, but nothing at the moment,” Frank Fernandez said as he tried to reach his family from the soup kitchen to let them know he had arrived in Colombia with his brother. . They headed to Chile, where Fernandez worked for four years before trying his luck again in Venezuela.
The 19-year-old was working in construction in Chile making about $43 a day. At his home, the only job he could find was cleaning windshields at gas stations. He and his brother walked 25 miles (40 km) a day until he entered Colombia along one of hundreds of dirt roads across the border.
According to data compiled by the Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants, which includes about 200 humanitarian organizations, the government has targeted 753,000 Venezuelan migrants and refugees in 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean since November. , recording the arrival of asylum seekers.
The platform’s data also show that the overall population of Venezuelans living in these countries fell slightly last year, from 4,620,185 in January to 4,598,355 in July.
Platform figures do not include all immigrants, as some countries do not count illegal immigrants and figures for others, such as the United States, are not included.
The lockdowns and border closures caused by the pandemic have also pushed migrants down a more dangerous path. Mexico recently imposed visa requirements on Venezuelans, so instead of flying to the country that borders the United States, Venezuelan migrants now cross the Darien Gap, a roadless jungle that straddles the Colombia-Panama border. After that, they often travel north through Central America. Rough terrain and wildlife are common.
The Panamanian government said 45,000 Venezuelans have entered its territory so far this year, up from just 3,000 last year.
Arbelys, the 13th of 14 siblings, said he wasn’t sure if he would be able to attend school when he arrived in Peru. She didn’t even know where she was going to live in Peru.
A rescue worker at a shelter near the border had warned her of the dangers she might face on the rest of her journey.
“My brothers say nothing will happen to me,” said Arbelys, whose parents remained at home. “Sometimes during the trip, I get scared because[the aid workers]have told me about human trafficking and how they are trying to trick you. It scares me a little bit because I do.”