Emergency Response: the Venezuelan migrants humanitarian crisis

At the Carcelén bus station in the north of Quito, the Rodriguez family waits for the departure of their bus to the southern border of Ecuador on their way to Peru. It is 11 o’clock and the sun has come out, it is received with joy by the Venezuelan travelers who are not used to the cold of Andean altitude weather. Carmen, 23 years old, is mother of 3 of the 4 children in the family group. She describes vividly her ten days’ journey from the Merida State. While holding her two months old baby, she says their trip was easier than she expected even though they were mugged, “we lost the one cellphone we had, and the 30 USD given by our aunt, yet we will keep on going”. She says there are criminals who are looking for Venezuelan travelers as they know they carry all their belongings with them. Like Carmen and her family, other three million Venezuelans have fled their country according to the latest numbers from the United Nations.

In Ecuador, CARE activated a humanitarian response to assist Venezuelans in the Ecuadorian border with Colombia. Peru being the final destination for most of them, they are just passing through Ecuador after crossing by foot Colombia from north to south. Together with World Vision, both organizations have implementing an emergency response with the support of the Star Funds humanitarian assistance mechanism. Under this scheme more than 1,053 people have been assisted to continue their journey; they are provided with sanitary and nutritional kits, assistance for their travel as well as guidelines to identify and react to trafficking networks active in the region as well as other forms of violence with special regards to women and girls.

The majority of those waiting for the afternoon bus are men under 40. They have a contact, a family member or a job offer, however nothing is certain. Some, like Jefferson, a 27 years old who have traveled alone for several weeks, have tried their luck in Colombia before their venture to the south of the continent. He says that leaving Venezuela was not an option for him as his two children and his sick father rely on him; they are now waiting for him to send them money, so they can buy food. He asserts, “in Colombia is possible to earn a living, but it is difficult if you do not have a work permit or a visa”, proving that travel conditions are increasingly precarious. “It is almost impossible to get a passport or update the national identity card, both can be extremely expensive”, Jefferson says. This is why most people travel without valid documentation, and thus they will face serious challenges to regularize their migratory status; in addition, they do not have enough money to pay for their trip and try to make some money as soon as they run out of it. Almost none have completed their secondary education or have had access to medical services in the last two years. Jefferson says that with temporary jobs, usually as a street vendor, he has been able to pay for the next part of his trip. He hopes to find stability in Peru.

Like Jefferson, Cesar, 24 years old, comes from Margarita. He has had to look for temporary jobs or admission to a public shelter to avoid spending the night on the street. He highlights the solidarity shown by the people in Colombia and Ecuador. However, he knows that the road is very dangerous and that is why he looked for travel partners. “Women are the most vulnerable”, he adds, “there are people in the border recruiting women, if they leave its likely they will not be seen again.” He arrived in Quito two days ago, since then he has only been able to sleep on the sidewalk by the bus station along with his travel mates as the closest shelter only admits women and families. He also mentions a camp just across the street he refers to as The Tents, to his view it is a more dangerous place than the sidewalk as drug are being trafficked and there is prostitution.

The camp Cesar refers to is located a few meters from the bus station. It is an improvised camp made of plastic bags and run off camping tents where 15 children, including two newborns, 25 women, 32 men and five elders have permanently settled. The camp was built just over three months ago and receives help from the Quito Municipality that has set up two portable toilets. They regularly receive donations from other organizations. Yet, precarious conditions are alarming and unworthy. Ramiro (30 years old) and Laura (62 years old) introduced themselves as the camp coordinators, they claim to maintain mechanisms that prioritize women and girls, guaranteeing them a space to sleep; they also keep the common food safe that is distributed evenly among the lodgers. They keep the place clean and decide on the capacity for more people to be admitted. They say they have no other place to go as all other shelters are temporary and finding a permanent job is not a possibility for them.

Carmen and her family are optimistic about their future, as the situation in Venezuela cannot get worse. She is grateful with Ecuador as her children received medical assistance for free, they were vaccinated, received and received nutritional supplements and vitamins at the border. She was also examined for the first time after giving birth at home to her youngest child, she was not admitted to the public hospital.

CARE is coordinating with other organizations in the country taking part into the emergency response. Part of the coordination work focuses on two criteria: to efficiently use the resources at the assistance centers installed at the border and in the main cities in Ecuador in a coordinated manner; and, prioritize the assistance to people in the most vulnerable conditions, particularly women and girls trafficked or recruited for prostitution or who have faced gender-based violence. One of the key objectives is to strengthen and support the work done by governments in the region, with special attention to the regional Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting to take place in Quito on November 22th, where a Venezuelan delegation is expected to be part of.  The Ecuadorian government reported that from January to September 2018, 708,935 Venezuelans entered the country.