The return of migrants to Venezuela in days of coronavirus: “A month eating lentils”

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According to the government, there have been some 53,289 infections and 428 deaths from covid-19. Of the 5 million emigrants, And about 100,000 have returned.

Carlos spent eight cold days in a plaza in Bogotá. Unemployed by the covid-19 pandemic, he had to return to Venezuela. Once in your country, says he endured a month of “hunger” in a state shelter where he was admitted to serve quarantine for the coronavirus.

They told him that he should pass 14 days in one of the shelters arranged by the socialist government for the arrival of returnees, the so-called PASI (Points of Social and Integral Assistance), in their case in the western state of Táchira, bordering Colombia.

However, although he turned out to be free of the virus, the stay of Carlos, a fictitious name to reserve his identity, was extended much longer by delays in detection tests, until recently concentrated in a laboratory in Caracas.

“A month of life lost (…), enduring hunger, very hungry,” this 31-year-old cook told AFP. Both he and his wife lost about 10 kilos during the 31 days they were locked up.

At dinners, they generally served the same thing as at lunch. “The breakfast menu was a pure pancake (alone). And everything lunches were always rice and lentils, sometimes with yucca and other times three pieces of pig’s claw, “explains Carlos.

“They all ate the same, the medical personnel and the soldiers,” recalls Carlos, who had stomach discomfort. “The main option to improve myself was not to eat what they gave us, that’s what made me sick“.

Carlos, who emigrated in 2017, was taken to a dirty gym with mats on the floor. About 50 people were organizing to clean it up. “Every day we cleaned, they (the government) they gave us chlorine and soap “, he relates. “The mattresses were covered wires,” he describes.

At the site, guarded by the military, “there was not much to do, except being locked in the room all day; we only went out to bathe “. Many entertained themselves with their cell phones, but they were “prohibited from taking pictures of the staff and the food,” says Carlos.

The Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro, and senior officials of his government defend the management of the PASI, but in several of these shelters they have been reported protests for bad conditions, which led the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to express “concern.”

The Human Rights Center of the Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB), one of the main institutions of higher education in Venezuela, documents cases of failures in basic services such as water, overcrowding and insufficient food.

Others have had better experiences. Valeria, whose real name is withheld, returned on a humanitarian flight and claims they were “treated well”.

“They gave us three meals a day that they tried to vary them, they let relatives send you essential things,” says Valeria, who spent three days in an abandoned tourist complex in the coastal state of La Guaira rehabilitated for quarantines.

According to the government, in this country of 30 million inhabitants about 53,289 infections and 428 deaths have been registered by the covid-19 since March, figures questioned by the opposition, which considers that they hide a much worse situation.

Carlos is one of the most five million Venezuelans that according to the UN they left their country since the end of 2015 due to the crisis.

It wasn’t bad for him in Bogotá. He worked in a pizzeria, but COVID-19 changed things: “Sales fell a lot and the pizzeria was not selling enough to pay us all.”

His case is not isolated in days of pandemic. Some, like Carlos, returned through legal border crossings; but others did it by trails, informal passages across the borders with Colombia and Brazil. More than 100,000 Venezuelans, according to official figures, they have returned.

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