Ecuador has declared a state of emergency in three provinces following a flood of Venezuelan migrants crossing into the country through neighbouring Colombia. This month, the number of refugees entering Ecuador jumped to 4,500 per day. The Ecuadorian government is struggling to cope with the influx of migrants, many of whom require medical attention and psychological support.
The recent increase in border crossings is said to be provoked by rumours that Colombia’s new right-wing President Iván Duque may close the borders in an attempt to deal with the mass migration. Other rumours hint that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro may order the border between Venezuela and Colombia to be closed. Motivated by fear, many Venezuelans have begun an arduous journey across the South American continent in the hope of a better life.
The mass exodus of Venezuelans from their home country is fuelled by a collapsing economy, crippling hyperinflation, and dire food shortages. Since the beginning of the year, over 500,000 Venezuelans have entered Ecuador through Colombia. Whole families have fled in an attempt to escape escalating violence and hardship. Irene Bravo, a Venezuelan refugee who plans to travel from Ecuador to Chile with her family, told Reuters that “[t]he situation is unsustainable in Venezuela. Everything is expensive and you cannot afford to eat.”
William Spindler, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters: “Many of the Venezuelans are moving on foot in an odyssey of days and even weeks in precarious conditions.” Although many migrants find themselves destitute and are forced to live rough during these journeys, Spindler commented that for the majority of these refugees, the experience is still preferable to the fate that would await them at home.
The reason for the state of emergency, which will last throughout August, is to speed up the deployment of medical workers, social workers, and police to the stricken provinces in order to more efficiently process those entering the country. Once processed, up to 20% of the migrants will stay in Ecuador and attempt to seek asylum, while the rest will travel further down to Peru, Argentina, and Chile. Almost half of these refugees are women or children, who Spindler says face “serious risk of sexual violence, in particular survival sex and trafficking.”
As the immensity of the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis becomes clearer, the question of how to deal with the growing number of asylum seekers is becoming a contentious topic among all Latin American nations. Last week during a televised presidential debate in Brazil, candidate Henrique Meirelles said, “We must act so that the situation changes in Venezuela and the regime changes… …so Venezuelans want to go back.”
Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil have already tightened requirements for Venezuelans entering the country by requiring those who reach the border to have a passport, a document that is hard to get a hold of in Venezuela. With hyperinflation set to reach 1 million percent in Venezuela, the mass exodus of its people is likely to worsen, and how its neighbouring nations will cope with such an increase remains to be seen.
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