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

Nicolas Maduro has maligned the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing across the Andes as unsophisticated” slaves and panhandlers” defrauded into scour foreign toilets by adversaries 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, set off 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 encountered a small lump near her mettle. On Tuesday, and after an arduous three-week journeying across Colombia, her leader arrived 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 disentangling nation.

” Getting here was tough, but I have to battle for my family ,” 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 automobile crash.

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

Luquez is one of the more than 500,000 Venezuelans who have traversed into northern Ecuador via Colombia this year as his country’s migration crisis increases. Regional authorities is difficult 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 days of August alone.

Jose de la Fuente, the regional head of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said the number could thump 100,000 by the end of this month.” I don’t think anybody imagined 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 guerrillas had not pushed so many beings across the border.

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

” I miss 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 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 financial or migratory disasters easing, Venezuela’s neighbours appear to be losing patience.

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

On Saturday, enraged Brazilians placed fire to migrant cliquesin the frontier municipality of Pacaraima and forced about 1, 200 Venezuelan immigrants back over the borderafter a restaurant proprietor was cheated and jabbed- allegedly by Venezuelans. The Venezuelan foreign ministry expressed concern over the two attacks and pushed Brazil to protect the immigrants and their dimension. Brazil said it would communicate additional units 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 absence because of the disarray back home.

Ecuador’s decision was denounced by activists as unconstitutional and inhumane. But it will delight some in Tulcan, a picturesque but economically depressed settlement of about 60,000 tenants.

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 ballparks and squares.

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

” You offers an opportunity to five, 10 or 20 Venezuelans but you can’t help … 10,000 ,” said Jairo Pozo, a business owner behind the dissent, accusing” these Venezuelan gentlemen” of stealing Ecuadorian employment and wallets.

Marco Sanchez, a 32 -year-old demonstrator, said he was disturbed by the presence of” this type of party”, claiming:” Piles of people 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 committed himself some petty crimes, she said, but added that official representations opened lie to claims Tulcan was in the grip of international crimes 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. Authorities already known to be 25 smuggling roads around the town, she said: “This is going to skyrocket.”

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

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 dying of hunger ,” she said, her seeings 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 have already immigrated .”

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

Others on the connection had most extreme suggestions.” There’s only one method to solve this: kill him- a rocket 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 thought 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 unthinkable indulgences back home, Luquez echoed starting his expedition in July with less than a dollar in his pocket. He intersected 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 inhabitant who told him ” venecos”, a disparaging parole for Venezuelans, were not welcome.

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

On his crutches, Luquez hitched and hiked his way south through Cali, over Ecuador’s frontier and finally to Tulcan where he sells sugareds 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 rinsing … and if you do take a bath it’s in a creek … I never conceived I’d go through something like this. I never contemplated I’d have to leave my country ,” he said. “Never.”

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

” My clas is most important to me ,” it read.” You don’t know how much I please they were here with me .”


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