Migrants who walk hundreds of kilometers to return to Venezuela amid the coronavirus pandemic

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Most return because they have not been able to get a stable job. But few succeed when they arrive in their country.

Leaving Venezuela was not an easy decision. Having to return in the middle of a pandemic is not. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have returned to their country in recent months due to the economic difficulties encountered in destination countries in the region, mainly Colombia, as a result of COVID-19. But the way back is not without its difficulties either.

“I came back for my children. Six months without family and without work is too much”, says Oswaldo Martínez in a Comprehensive Social Assistance Point (PASI), one of the centers created by the Venezuelan authorities in which those who return to the country, after being subjected to a diagnostic test for COVID-19, must comply with a preventive quarantine before to continue his journey back home.

At 31 years old and with two children to feed, Martínez decided to leave Venezuela due to the situation in which the country is plunged, where a political, economic and humanitarian crisis converge. His first destination was Colombia, but then he moved to Peru and also tried his luck in Ecuador. Unable to find a job that would allow him to send money home, he chose to return.

“Most of the people who return to the country tell us that they do so because of an unstable economic situation“Gabriele Ganci, general coordinator for the projects in Sucre, Delta Amacuro, Amazonas and Táchira of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) explains to Europa Press.

Many of them “have lost their jobs or economic livelihoods, making it difficult to rent a home, buy food, and even access health services,” he adds, underlining that to return to Venezuela, a large part of them “have been walking thousands of kilometers from countries like Ecuador, Peru or Colombia “.

Martínez is one of them. Had to walk for weeks and to live on the solidarity of the people that he encountered until he reached Cúcuta and finally be able to cross the Simón Bolívar bridge. Like him, as of mid-October, according to UN data, some 120,000 Venezuelans had returned to the country since March.

MSF is supporting the Venezuelan authorities in the PASIs, mainly in the area of ​​water and sanitation. As Ganci explains, these are “makeshift structures, generally schools or sports venues, that have been set up at high speed to house Venezuelans who return to their country in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Initially, many of these centers “they didn’t have everything they needed to house people “so MSF has worked with state and municipal authorities in order to adapt these spaces so that those who have to keep quarantine in them do so” with basic services, taking into account factors of personal hygiene and access. to drinking water “.

Among those who return are “people who suffer from chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma and, as they explain, due to their migratory status and economic condition, they have not had the necessary treatment to keep their underlying disease under control, “says the head of MSF.

Diarrheal diseases are also frequent since “they go to untreated water sources to stay hydrated during the trip and that the hygiene of the food they consume during the journey is not the most adequate”, as is not their personal hygiene, he says. the head of MSF.

Once the quarantine period is over, the Venezuelan authorities provide ground or air transportation as the case may be, so that the returnees can return to their homes. However, Ganci points out, “sometimes, due to logistical problems such as lack of fuel and availability of means of transport, some people have to wait longer even having completed the regulatory quarantine time “.

But when they return to their homes their problems do not end since, as the MSF coordinator emphasizes, “the economic situation of the Venezuelan returnees it’s quite unstable “ Given the lack of employment and opportunities in the country, they are faced with the “challenge of being able to provide for themselves and their families, housing, food and other basic needs.”

In its latest status report, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), highlighted the impact on the gasoline shortage in the country it was having in basic services and also in humanitarian response. In addition, it highlighted the lack of continuous supply of water, gas, electricity and telecommunications in some areas of the country.

Regarding the pandemic, it reached its peak in Venezuela in September and since then the infections have been decreasing. To date, the country registers some 94,000 cases and more than 800 fatalities. The Government of Nicolás Maduro imposed a state of alarm in March, which has been extended every month since then along with a quarantine scheme and flexibility of activities that has been alternated by areas and by weekly periods.

According to Ganci, despite some improvements thanks to the work of the Ministry of Health and non-governmental actors, in Venezuela “the health system continues to be subject to a lot of pressure and continues to present notable inadequacies in terms of infrastructure, services and resources.”

In this sense, MSF is supporting the health system in different areas. In the framework of the response to the pandemic, it currently manages the area designated for COVID-19 in the Pérez de León II Hospital, in one of the most populated neighborhoods of Caracas, in addition to provide technical guidance and support to other hospitals throughout the country, depending on the needs and demands.

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