Ecuadorian border town struggling to cope with exodus driven by financial collapse and political turmoil

Nicolas Maduro has maligned the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing across the Andes as gullible” slaves and panhandlers” hoaxed into scrubbing foreign toilets by enemies of the Bolivarian revolution.

The United Nations said 2.3 million people, more than 7% of Venezuela’spopulation, have left the country since 2015, with most heading to Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Half a million have arrived this year in Ecuador alone.

But when Daniel Luquez, an jobless carpenter, start out from his home in the city of Guanare in July he was not, as Venezuela’s president recently scoffed, chasing” the honeys” of a life abroad. He was fighting for his daughter’s life.

Two-year-old Jolismar was diagnosed with thoracic cancer last year after physicians find a small lump near her centre. On Tuesday, and after an arduous three-week wander across Colombia, her father-god reached in the Ecuadorian border town of Tulcan determined to earn the money to support his ailing daughter as she undergoes chemotherapy back in their rapidly deciphering nation.

” Getting here was tough, but I have to battle for their own families ,” said Luquez, 27, who hitchhiked and hobbled almost 1,200 miles to Ecuador. Six years ago his left leg was amputated as a result of a auto crash.

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Daniel Luquez, 27, advanced 1,200 miles and is one of more than 500 000 people who have bridged into northern Ecuador this year. Photograph: Tom Phillips for the Guardian

Luquez is one of the more than 500,000 Venezuelans who have swept into northern Ecuador via Colombia this year as his country’s migration crisis escalates. Regional authorities struggle to cope with the humanitarian and political fallout from one of the largest mass movements in Latin American history.

The exodus appears to have accelerated in recent weeks with virtually 43,000 Venezuelans streaming into Tulcan over Rumichaca Bridge in the first 14 daytimes of August alone.

Jose de la Fuente, the regional head of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said the number could punch 100,000 by the end of this month.” I don’t think anybody supposed a crisis of this length ,” he said.

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Andrea Obando, who is leading the humanitarian response for Tulcan’s town hall, said even 50 years of conflict involving Colombian paramilitaries and insurgents had not pushed so many people across the border.

Maduro, who came to power after Hugo Chavez’s death in 2013, has impres a rebelliou atmosphere after the recent attempt to assassinate him, detaining political foes and vowing to revive Venezuela’s nosediving economy.

” I require the country to recover and I have the formula. Trust me ,” he said in a televised address on Friday, announcing a major currency devaluation many economists say will construct the situation even worse.

Crowds
Crowds of Venezuelan migrants wait to cross into Ecuador on the Rumichaca bridge. Photograph: Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent for the Guardian

But with no suggestion of the economic or migratory junctures easing, Venezuela’s neighbours appear to be losing patience.

Brazil, which has taken in tens of thousands of Venezuelans, briefly closed its northern border in early August, with regional experts claiming they could no longer cope.” If we carry on like this, by the end of the year we will have lost restrain of the town ,” warned the mayor of Boa Vista, which is near the border.

On Saturday, angry Brazilians placed fire to migrant cliquesin the frontier town of Pacaraima and pushed about 1, 200 Venezuelan immigrants back over the borderafter a eatery proprietor was robbed and jabbed- allegedly by Venezuelans. The Venezuelan foreign ministry expressed concern over the attacks and advocated Brazil to protect the immigrants and their owned. Brazil said it would transport additional troops to the Roraima border to counter the unrest.

Earlier this year, Chile and Colombia introduced measures designed to deter Venezuelans from coming, and this week Ecuador and Peru followed suit, announcing they would only admit those with passports, something numerous paucity because of the commotion back home.

Ecuador’s decision was was condemned by activists as unconstitutional and inhuman. But it will please some in Tulcan, a picturesque but economically depressed settlement of about 60,000 residents.

Hundreds of them marched through its streets on Thursday, expecting urgent action from President Lenin Moreno to rescue its economy and slow the influx of Venezuelans, some of whom can be seen sleeping bumpy and praying in parks and squares.

Hundreds
Hundreds of neighbourhoods take to the streets of Tulcan, Ecuador to protest against the arrival of thousands of Venezuelan migrants. Photograph: Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent for the Guardian

” You are helpful in five, 10 or 20 Venezuelans but you can’t help … 10,000 ,” said Jairo Pozo, a business owner behind the dissent, alleging” these Venezuelan gentlemen” of stealing Ecuadorian employment and wallets.

Marco Sanchez, a 32 -year-old demonstrator, said he was disturbed by the presence of” these kinds of person”, claiming:” Piles of parties mostly come here come to steal .”

Obando said she was concerned about rising xenophobia and blamed local media for sensationalising a handful of offences committed by Venezuelans. Starving incomers had committed some petty crimes, she said, but added that official representations gave lie to claims Tulcan was in the control of a crime wave.

She said Ecuador’s ” arbitrary ” decision to bar passport-less Venezuelans would strand numerous in Tulcan or push them into the mitts of parties smugglers. Permissions already is well aware of 25 smuggling footpaths around the town, she said: “This is going to skyrocket.”

That Venezuela’s exodus will continue is obvious from the anecdotes of despair that abound on Rumichaca Bridge, where thousands assemble each day en route to a new living and a Jehovah’s Witness volunteer has made a mansion posing the question on everyone’s mind:” When will the bear outcome ?”

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Yemila Urribarri, a 42 -year-old psychologist from Maracaibo who is fleeing to Peru with her 14 -year-old son, Jhoel. Photograph: Tom Phillips, Latin America correspondent for the Guardian

Yemila Urribarri, a 42 -year-old psychologist from Maracaibo who is fleeing to Peru with her 14 -year-old son, said her country was disintegrating.” There are children death of hunger ,” she said, her attentions glazing over with tears.

AndresChacin, a 21 -year-old politics graduate who was Argentina-bound, said his generation had also lost hope:” Eighty per cent of my friends had now been immigrated .”

With Maduro clinging on and Venezuela’s opposition fractioned, Chacin said he determines international pressing as the only chance of change.” Vladimir Putin will be determined[ what happens ]. Xi Jinping will decide. Latin American governments will decide. Nobody else ,” he said.

Others on the connection had more extreme suggestions.” There’s only one way to solve this: kill him- a projectile on Miraflores ,” said Alex Ribero, a gold-miner from Ciudad Bolivar, referring to the presidential palace.

A group of backpackers from Germany and New Zealand looked on in disbelief having unwittingly stumbled into the humanitarian emergency.” I’ve never been part of something like this … I has no such notion what we were going to be coming into ,” said Ashleigh Mcquarters, a 32 -year-old accountant who was among the crowd queuing to enter Ecuador.

Over coffee and cake , now unbelievable indulgences back home, Luquez recalled starting his expedition in July with less than a dollar in his pocket. He spanned into Colombia at the town ofArauquita and initially planned to stay in Bogota . But he abandoned Colombia’s capital after being accosted by a local occupant who told him ” venecos”, a derogatory statement for Venezuelans, were not welcome.

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Daniel Luquez in Tulcan. Photograph: Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent for the Guardian

On his crutches, Luquez hitched and hiked his space south through Cali, over Ecuador’s mete and finally to Tulcan where he sells sugaries on street corners from 7am to 7pm to help pay for his daughter’s treatment.

” It’s hard. You run three or four days without laundering … and if you do take a bath it’s in a creek … I never thought I’d go through something like this. I never fantasized I’d have to leave my own country ,” he said. “Never.”

That night Luquez retired to the shabby $50 -a-month hostel where he has leased a area with help from an international charity. He logged on to its wi-fi network and typed a content into his phone.

” My category is most important to me ,” it spoke.” You don’t know how much I care they were here with me .”

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