December 10, 2018

Venezuelans immigrants seek better opportunities

Since 2014, almost 280,000 Venezuelans have applied for asylum in different countries, including 117,000 Venezuelans so far this year, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR).

According to news agency Reuters, the mass immigration crisis has reached a point where neighboring countries are pleading for aid to the rest of the world to cope with Venezuelan migrants. On August 29, 2018, a meeting of the Andean Community– Colombia, Peru and Ecuador–tried to tackle the migration issues of Venezuela.    

Reuters indicated reports of temporary refugee camps on the borders of Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil. Reuters reported instances of people attacking such camps, prompting cities officials relocating those refugee camps. One of the incidents happened on August 18, 2018, the residents in the community of Pacariama, Brazil rioted and drove out the Venezuelan immigrants after a local restaurant owner was stabbed and beaten according to the residents and government officials.

The United Nations is currently dealing with the migration crisis as refugees call for more help from host countries. Venezuelans like Sabrina Isabel Reveron who made it to the U.S. have families still living there and cannot bring them to the U.S. Venezuela is in the list of countries who banned their citizens from entering the United States country by the Trump administration.   

Reveron is an alumna of Webster University and graduated in 2011 with a degree in international relations with a minor in French.  She currently works in New York City for an organization trying to find housing for the LGBT people who have HIV. Reveron said her mother and stepfather are still in Venezuela, so she sends donation boxes filled with food and medicine.  

“The current situation got more drastic to the point I started donating boxes of supplies to Venezuela not only for my mom but to distribute to the whole community,” Reveron said. “I was terrified. I had a lot of anxiety of what was going to happen and that uncertainty and much anger of all the injustice.”

Octavio Pino manages Marletto’s at Webster University. Like Reveron’s family, Pino said his family it is also sometimes hard to find supplies since they live in the small-town Palo Negro.

“The medication is hard to find for my dad,” Pino said. “He has an eye issue, and he needs his medication that most of the time you can’t find it in Venezuela. I have a niece who lives in Panama. She gets get it for him, and I wire the money so that we can purchase medicine for my family.” 

According to the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela, the country is suffering an 85 percent shortage of medicine leaving a 90 percent deficit of medical supplies.

Food and medicine in Venezuela became a luxury to buy in the market since prices had gone up.

“We used to pack in a box stuff that we take for granted like toothpaste, soap or deodorant,” Pino said. “Basic stuff that we bought here is become hard to find there.”

“When I left the country, there was a shortage of food and medicine, the public service collapse like clinics or transport, small wages because of the inflation and political persecution,” Reveron said.

Peru currently has 45 percent of all Venezuelan asylum seekers, almost 127,000 individuals, followed by United States (68,000) and Brazil (33,000). In the first six months of this year, 1,420 Venezuelans have sought asylum in Mexico, a nearly four-fold jump compared to the 361 total Venezuelan asylum applicants for all of 2016.

Daniel Hellinger, a professor of International relations at Webster, said Venezuela has been highly polarized politically over the past 20 years. During those 20 years of the political environment of Venezuela, it became very unstable.

Political persecution in Venezuela has also become a daily occurrence in Venezuela by both administrations of Chavez and Maduro, according to Hellinger.

“[Venezuela has] a government that is not very popular and has contributed to making a bad situation even worse with it economic policy,” Hellinger said. “It is facing an opposition that can get a significant number of the middle-class people into the streets, but still hasn’t mobilized the other kind of voters who are in time co-supporter of Hugo Chavez.”

According to the Penal Forum–a Venezuelan network of pro-bono criminal defense lawyers–, there are more than 340 political prisoners in Venezuelan prisons or intelligence service headquarters. Most of the people who had been persecuted are politicians from the opposition, municipal legislative, students, power executives and journalist.

“I think almost everybody, including people who used to support Chavez, recognizes that there are serious problems,” Hellinger said. “The actual positive support for Maduro and the government is very low.”  

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