Ilva Medine and her husband Israel Uzcategui faced an impossible choice for their family. Stay in their native Venezuela, and possibly starve, or leave, not knowing how or if they’d be able to survive somewhere else.
Things in Venezuela had gotten that bad. The country is currently in a crisis so severe that a month’s salary cannot buy a day’s worth of food for many families. Add to that the violent uprisings, and there was really only one choice. The family fled to find refuge in Peru.
The journey was challenging – the couple has two small children, aged 18 months and three years – and fraught with uncertainty. Would they be allowed into Peru? How would they support themselves? What if somebody got sick?
An untenable situation
Ilva and Israel are not alone. Tens of thousands of families faced – and are still facing – the same harrowing reality.
More than three million people have fled Venezuela since the crisis began, and the exodus has accelerated in the past six months. The capital city of Caracas has become one of the world’s most violent cities. In January 2019 alone, more than 40 people have been killed in demonstrations. Health concerns are rising as well. Diphtheria and malaria, diseases that were once controlled, are reappearing.
The incredible influx of refugees has left neighboring countries scrambling to accommodate the desperate families, who often arrive with only what they can carry on their back. So far, more than 600,000 Venezuelans have settled in Peru. Jobs are limited, even for people who left professional careers behind.
Yenny Chipana Lima runs a small restaurant in Lima and is witness to the hardships of her new Venezuelan neighbors. She does what she can to help, including offering refugees meals at half price.
While Yenny is generous, she’s not wealthy. Her kindness has taken a toll on her income and business. And it still seems like there are so many people who need food, homes, jobs – a way to survive.
Before the crisis Peru had one of the fastest-growing economies in the region. Now asylum requests are overburdening the system and forcing the government to provide emergency services it did not anticipate. At one point, Peru declared health emergencies because of imminent danger to health and sanitation.
Emotions here are complicated. Many native Peruvians are starting to fear the impact the new influx of migrants may have on their jobs and housing stability. But many here also feel the historical ties and compassion toward Venezuelans because of that country’s role in Peruvian independence. In recent elections some candidates ran on anti-Venezuelan platforms but were defeated.