Venezuela Campaign: Individual tragedies lie underneath refugee statistics

Individuals stories should always be at the centre of reporting on humanitarian and social catastrophes. Venezuela is no exception. Staggering numbers of people have left the country, at least 2.3 million in recent years and up to 4 million since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1999. Early emigrants tended to be those who had suffered discrimination or persecution at the hands of the regime. In the last 5 years, however, many ordinary Venezuelans, including a large chunk of its young people, have fled the country as its economy and social fabric is falling apart. Here we will consider some of the stories of those who have left:

 Yerilin & Richard

Yerilin & Richard

Yerilin and Richard are a young couple. They fled to Brazil when Yerilin was 8 months pregnant. They chose to have the baby in Brazil as Venezuela suffers from acute food and medicine shortages. Describing Venezuela, Yerilin says: ‘It was awful. Sometimes we’d eat just one meal a day, or sometimes we just ate rice and tomatoes, or salad and that’s all we could get.’ She says she was anaemic for months because of her poor diet and couldn’t get the necessary vitamins. Like hundreds of other mothers, Yerilin came to Brazil to have her baby in a safer country. She hopes her child will get Brazilian nationality, but their main concern is bringing up little Max in a refugee tent on the edge of Brazil. Despite the mosquitoes and the heat, however, the couple agree that it is much better than back home.

 Sex workers on the border with Colombia

Sex workers on the border with Colombia

Two Venezuelan women sell sex on the streets of Cucuta, a town on Venezuela’s border with Colombia which is now home to tens of thousands of refugees. The women insist on keeping their identities secret. One of them has left her children behind in Caracas, while the other has brought her baby with her. ‘I can’t really tell anyone about my work, because people just discriminate against you,’ says one. ‘Most people just won’t understand that this is a huge sacrifice that I do for my family.’ The other also admits that being a sex worker is far from ideal. ‘I don’t really feel good about this work,’ she says. ‘Because you have to cope with a lot of horrible stuff, and I don’t sleep very well. But I have children and a family and I have to deal with it.’ Trapped and powerless, these women sell sex as they are unable to get a job in Colombia, a precarious situation which leads towards exploitation by gangs.

 Curaçao

Curaçao

In January this year 18-year-old Jeanaury Jiménez was travelling to the island of Curaçao for the second time, having been deported back to Venezuela once before. This time, however, her fragile boat capsized, leading to her death and ten others’ who had made the journey in search of a better life. Jeanaury left behind two newborns, who are being cared for by their grandmother in a country where baby formula is all but unaffordable. Jeanaury’s family, like almost every family inside Venezuela, wonder where their next meal will come from. 20% of Venezuelans rely on CLAP, a government-run food distribution system which, in the absence of other sources of food, assures their compliance to the regime. Around 3 million Venezuelans receive money from abroad, mostly in dollars. Since the regime is greedy for cash, it takes a cut from all foreign transfers.

As should be clear by now, the Venezuelan government has no interest in the welfare of its citizens, at home or abroad. This tragedy can be met with determined action from the international community to help those who have fled Venezuela – and push for Venezuela to end its embargo on international aid, which is still in force and worsening the crisis there.

More information on the Venezuela Campaign can be found on their website