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

Nicolas Maduro has defamed the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing across the Andes as unsophisticated” slaves and panhandlers” deceived into scouring foreign toilets by enemies of the Bolivarian revolution.

The United Commonwealth 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 scorned, chasing” the sugars” of a life abroad. He was fighting for his daughter’s life.

Two-year-old Jolismar was diagnosed with thoracic cancer last year after doctors felt a small lump near her nerve. On Tuesday, and after an arduous three-week wander across Colombia, her leader arrived here the Ecuadorian border town of Tulcan determined to earn the money to support his ailing daughter as she experiences chemotherapy back in their rapidly untangling 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.

Daniel Luquez, 27, advanced 1,200 miles and is one of more than 500 000 people who have spanned 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 struggle to cope with the humanitarian and political fallout from one of the largest mass migrations in Latin American history.

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

Jose de la Fuente, the regional head of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said the number could make 100,000 by the end of this month.” I don’t think anybody imagined a crisis of this width ,” 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 hit a rebelliou tone after the recent attempt to assassinate him, detaining political foes and vowing to revive Venezuela’s nosediving economy.

” I want the country to recover and I have the formula. Trust me ,” he said in a televised address on Friday, announcing a major money devaluation numerous economists say will realise 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 indication of the economic 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 approvals 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, furious Brazilians gave fire to migrant cliquesin the frontier town of Pacaraima and action about 1, 200 Venezuelan immigrants back over their own bordersafter a eatery owned was robbed and stabbed- reportedly by Venezuelans. The Venezuelan foreign ministry expressed concern over the two attacks and urged Brazil to protect the immigrants and their owned. Brazil said it would communicate extra 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 many lack because of the strife 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 inhabitants.

Hundreds of them rallied 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 commons and squares.

Hundreds of locals 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 offers an opportunity to five, 10 or 20 Venezuelans but you can’t help … 10,000 ,” said Jairo Pozo, a business owner behind the demonstrate, accusing” these Venezuelan gentlemen” of stealing Ecuadorian respect of 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 parties basically 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. Depriving incomers had committed some inessential crimes, she said, but added that official chassis threw 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 many in Tulcan or push them into the mitts of people smugglers. Approvals already known to be 25 smuggling ways around the town, she said: “This is going to skyrocket.”

That Venezuela’s exodus will continue is obvious from the fibs of despair that bristle on Rumichaca Bridge, where thousands assemble each day en route to a brand-new life and a Jehovah’s Witness volunteer has made a signaling posing the question on everyone’s mind:” When will the endure death ?”

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 deteriorating.” There are children dying of hunger ,” she said, her eyes 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 subdivided, Chacin said he learns international influence as the only chance of change.” Vladimir Putin will be determined[ what happens ]. Xi Jinping will be determined. Latin American governments will decide. Nobody else ,” he said.

Others on the bridge had most extreme suggestions.” There’s only one way 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 appeared on in skepticism having unwittingly stumbled into the humanitarian emergency.” I’ve never been part of something like this … I had no intuition 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 recollected starting his excursion in July with less than a dollar in his pocket. He bridged into Colombia at the town ofArauquita and initially planned to stay in Bogota . But he abandoned Colombia’s capital after being accosted by a neighbourhood resident who told him ” venecos”, a pejorative term 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 lane 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 move three or four dates without cleaning … and if you do take a bath it’s in a river … I never pondered 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 chamber with help from an international charity. He logged on to its wi-fi network and typed a theme into his phone.

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


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