Yessi Aguirre is 27 years old and has lived in Barranquilla for three years. She arrived there with her daughter, who is now eight years old, and her husband. Since then, she has made a living working in restaurants in the city as a waitress. In Colombia he had managed to stabilize his life, bypassing the difficult economic situation in his country Venezuela, to which I would now like to return because of the sudden change that the emergency caused by the coronavirus has represented.
Without a job since January, Yessi watches as time passes and the measures taken by the Colombian government to stop the virus outbreaks are becoming more restrictive and do not presage a soon return to the restaurants, where she worked. Without great hopes of getting a new job, with most of the businesses closed and very few people looking to hire, he plans to return to his country, but this is another challenge, since the borders are closed and reaching Venezuela in the current conditions can be a journey worth risking your life for.
Normally a trip to his native Maracaibo would not cost him more than 100 thousand pesos (USD 25), he would take a bus to Maicao (La Guajira) and there he would pay for transportation to Maracaibo. The border crossing would be done on foot and without problems since it has papers from both countries. But this option given current conditions, with restricted transport and closed borders, is impossible.
Like her There are thousands of Venezuelans in Colombia, some in much more precarious situations, who, in the face of the general confinement of the country, have seen how the means of subsistence that they have managed to achieve since they left their homes are left without a floor.. Many live from day to day, informal work, or jobs that require exposure to the outside, with their hands tied and unable to work, have lost the ability to pay for their homes and food, and are being victims of evictions and xenophobia.
This is a situation that worries Thailer Fiorillo, from the Panas Foundation, since he affirms that many of his compatriots arrived in Colombia fleeing because their human rights were violated.But now they are forced to return under extremely difficult conditions and exposing themselves to the coronavirus.
“My main concern is the people who work”, he says, because he recognizes that governments are not discriminating in their aid and those who live in strata 1 and 2 have received humanitarian aid available to all vulnerable populations. However, Venezuelans who are not part of this strip and who had their job, even if it were informal, today are without income, seeing how the provisions they had are running out and how they cannot pay for their housing or services.. “Many despair and seek to return”, He says.
Fiorillo says that About 10 days ago, pirate buses left Barranquilla with about 80 Venezuelans.. Similar situation happened in other cities of the Coast, adding 200 people who arrived in buses to La Guajira, where thanks to the intervention of the departmental government they managed to pass through the Paraguachón border crossing to Venezuela. “From there to there we lost communication with them, we know that they would be quarantined when they crossed, but we do not know if they are still there or if they are being treated well, because the messages that come from the border are that those who cross are not treated in the best way“Says Fiorillo.
“I am leaving even if I am walking to Venezuela,” says Rodrigo Camargo, a 43-year-old man who arrived in Bogotá two years ago. He works doing various trades and arrangements in the houses, but he has lost all his clients since the quarantine was decreed.
“No one receives me at home, I understand, but I have no job and to starve here I better do it in my country”, says Roberto and says that from the place where he lives they gave him an ultimatum to leave in a couple of days. He is still not very clear what he is going to do, a couple of weeks ago when about 14 buses with Venezuelans left the border for Bogotá, he had not decided to return so he did not do much to board one of those transports.
Now he feels that he is trapped in the capital because the stories he hears from compatriots trying to return to Venezuela is that due to the controls that the mayor’s office has taken on the city limits, they have not even managed to leave Bogotá.
Rodrigo says that soon he will run out of money and he will have no choice but to take his bags and walk to Táchira, a journey of which he is no stranger since part of his trip to Colombia was made in this way.
The last attempt to leave Bogotá was made by a group of 320 Venezuelans on Friday, April 24, who was trapped in Chía (Bogotá) as the immigration authorities did not allow them to continue to Cúcuta since that border city is saturated with immigrants.
From cities such as Medellín, Cali, Bucaramanga, Barranquilla, among others, buses have also been arranged to take Venezuelans to the border to return to their country.
Although this could initially be taken as humanitarian action, it is creating a serious problem that is on alert. maxim to the authorities of the border areas, especially in Cúcuta, where the most important step towards Venezuela is and one of the two permanent humanitarian corridors that the two countries arranged.
According to the mayor of Cúcuta, Jairo Yánez, in the last month at least 50 thousand Venezuelans have left for Venezuela, coming from all over Colombia, many of them have been traveling even from other countries like Ecuador.
This journey is a huge risk because in Norte de Santander there are already 60 confirmed cases and four deaths from coronavirus and the massive arrival of Venezuelan migrants could cause a much stronger outbreak of the disease. That is why all the people who arrive in Cúcuta have a medical check-up and once they cross the border, the Venezuelan health authorities do the same.
The situation also alerts human rights organizations working on the border, which warn of the “time bomb” cultivated in Cúcuta before the massive and constant arrival of Venezuelans.
“Cúcuta is going to become a highway for contagion because thousands of people are arriving by bus, hundreds of people are walking”, José Luis Muñoz, spokesperson for the NGO Humanitarian Network, said in an interview with the Voice of America.
Muñoz affirms that people who come walking pose a special problem because, in addition to exposing their lives by crossing the two moors that must be crossed to reach Cúcuta -the one in Berlin and the one in Almorzadero- when they arrive at the municipality they end up wandering in their metropolitan area, becoming a possible source of contagion, in addition to continuing to put their lives at risk by being outdoors.
He says that instead of promoting this mobility, Colombian governments, both local and national, should “Facilitate quarantine”, bringing humanitarian food and other aid to homes so that Venezuelans are not forced to return.
In this, Eduardo Espinel, from Funvacuc, agrees, who calls on President Iván Duque to allow Venezuelans who work in Colombia have the same benefits as Colombians, for example, in the measures for the payment of leases, thus ensuring that they are not expelled from their homes.
All the human rights defenders consulted for this report agree that, in addition to all the problems Venezuelans face in returning to their country, and how exposed they are to contracting the dangerous Covid-19 disease, upon arrival they must also face abuses by the Venezuelan government.
Across the border, returnees, far from leaving behind the drama of their long and tortuous journey, are encountering a harsh reality, receiving mistreatment from your government.
The allegations of abuse by the Venezuelan national guard, the overpopulation in Táchira, where the majority of returnees are concentrated before being able to continue their transit to their different cities of origin, and the complex public order situation on the border worsens the outlook for those who make the trip back to their country .
Contrary to what was announced by Nicolás Maduro in early April, when he spoke of receiving “with love, affection and all preventive measures” to those who return to Venezuela, what is happening at the border crossings is that people have them crowded in very precarious conditions and with high risk of contagion.
This has been reported Bloomberg, collecting testimonies from people who are in quarantine after going to Venezuela and claim to be without mattresses and afraid of the beatings and ill-treatment they receive if they criticize any measure.
Several human rights defenders have criticized this treatment by the Venezuelan government, stating that they have returnees in “war conditions”, which is why organizations that from Colombia work with migrants from the neighboring country they do not promote their compatriots to return to the Maduro regime.
Added to this is the serious public order situation on the borders, where the presence of armed groups, both guerrillas as paramilitaries, represents an additional risk for nearby populations.
Between Wednesday and Thursday of the week that passed, for exampleSome 400 Venezuelans fled again to Colombian territory after a threatening audio was circulated on WhatsApp in which a presumed commander of Los Rastrojos, identified as alias Camaleón, affirmed that in the border town of Boca de Grita (Táchira) fighting would soon begin and anyone who remained in the crossfire would die.
“I am going to ask the entire community of Boca de Grita for the favor that they leave the town because we are going to make an attack, we do not answer for the civilians who die, we are going to make an attack against the red beret (national guards of Venezuela). So get ready to fight, ten days in a row we are going to fight with you. This is ‘Camaleón’, first commander of the block José Gregorio Hernández de Los Rastrojos.“said the intimidating audio.
Along with the audio, a video was also circulated that showed the bodies of several people, mostly young men who apparently had died from the fighting that took place in the sector.
Infobae was able to establish contact by chat with a woman from a nearby population who claimed to hear gunshots and loud explosions, and having seen the guard “pulling people out with cars.” She, who asked to keep her name, could not confirm the veracity of the strong images of the video, but she did affirm that it is not the first time that a similar situation occurs, so people are very afraid and are fleeing again. to Colombia.
He said that he arrived in Boca de Grita after two days of traveling from Bogotá and three more days waiting in Cúcuta to cross the border. She has been in the Venezuelan town for a little less than a week, since she hopes to meet relatives there to continue on her way to Caracas and that when they fled almost the entire town was tempted to do so, but was very afraid, so she remained locked until everything calmed down.
Of the 400 Venezuelans who crossed into Colombia again, a group of about 104 were housed in a coliseum set up by the mayor of Puerto Santander (Colombia) and after several days began to return to Boca de Grita in a controlled way, as the authorities guaranteed the security of the transfer.
According to Colombia Migration, there are about 1,825,000 Venezuelans in the country and 11,000 of them have officially left through the humanitarian steps to Venezuela.
The Colombian immigration authority clarifies that each day they are allowing the passage of approximately 400 to 500 people and that coordination with the mayoralties is essential so that they do not crowd indiscriminately in Cúcuta.
They highlight that the Colombian government is not sponsoring the return of Venezuelans to their country and the national policy is to maintain quarantine to stop possible outbreaks of Covid-19, so it is the will of Venezuelans to return and the assistance provided is from a humanitarian coordination with the neighboring country.