The phenomenon responds to the reopening of the economies of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, after months of quarantine against the coronavirus
Eleazar Hernández slept on the sidewalk under a light drizzle, with almost freezing temperatures and the roar of passing trucks. This 23-year-old Venezuelan migrant was trying to reach the Colombian city of Medellín with his wife, seven months pregnant.
But the couple stayed penniless for transportation when he arrived in Pamplona, a small mountainous town 482 kilometers (more than 300 miles) from his final destination. Unable to buy bus tickets, Hernández pinned all his hopes on getting a free ride in the back of a truck. It was the safest way to cross the Berlin Wasteland, an icy plateau at an altitude of 4,000 meters.
“My wife can hardly walk,” said Hernández, who had been sleeping on the sidewalks of Pamplona for four days. “We want them to take us out of here by bus.”
After the quarantine against the coronavirus suspended for a few months one of the largest migratory movements in recent years, Venezuelans are once again fleeing the economic and humanitarian crisis in their country.
Although the number of people leaving is minor From what it did at the height of the Venezuelan exodus, Colombian immigration officials expect 200,000 Venezuelans to enter the country in the coming months, attracted by the possibility of having a better salary and being able to send money to their country to feed their families.
New migrants are faced with much more adverse conditions than those who left before the pandemic. Shelters remain closed, drivers are more reluctant to bring those waiting on the street into their vehicles, and residents who fear infection are less likely to help with food donations.
“They are not giving us rides as before,” said Anahir Montilla, a cook from the Venezuelan state of Guarico who was approaching the Colombian capital, Bogotá, after traveling with her family for 27 days.
Before the coronavirus, more than five million Venezuelans had left their country, according to the United Nations. The poorest did it on foot, walking through terrain that is often scorching but where it can also be bitterly cold.
As governments across South America crippled their economies in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19, many migrants were left without work. More than 100,000 Venezuelans returned to their country, where at least they had a roof over their heads.
Today, official land crossings and bridges into Colombia remain closed, forcing migrants to take illegal roads along the porous 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Venezuela. Those dirt roads are controlled by violent drug gangs and rebel organizations such as the National Liberation Army.
“The re-entry of the Venezuelan population to Colombia is taking place despite the fact that the border is closed,” said Ana Milena Guerrero, head of the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian NGO that helps migrants.
And many are now forced to walk for days within their own country to reach the border due to a fuel shortage that has reduced transportation between cities.
Hernández said it took him a week to walk from his city, Los Teques, to Colombia.
“I cannot allow my daughter to be born in a country where I have to go to sleep without eating something, ” he said while registering with an NGO that distributed backpacks with food and hats for the cold.
Once in Colombia, they usually walk along highways or they wait to get someone to drive them. But that has also been complicated.
“It has been too strong,” said Montilla, who was still 321 kms (200 miles) from his destination. “But at least here in Colombia we have food, we can buy clothes, we can buy shoes. We can’t do that there. ”