Venezuelans endure the painful journey to Ecuador
Quito (AFP) –
Jose Carrizales sits on a wooden chair with his feet in the air, waiting for the blisters to heel. Having travelled to Colombia after fleeing his home town of Valencia in Venezuela a month and a half ago, Carrizales realized he hadn't reached the promised land.
The 60-year-old quit Venezuela with his three children and a son-in-law because "there was nothing left."
Carrizales was fleeing abject poverty in his homeland where a collapsing economy and hyperinflation have destroyed salaries and left shortages of food and medicine, as well as failing public services.
But after travelling hundreds of kilometers, he found Colombia was saturated by more than a million Venezuelan immigrants, according to estimates, and Carrizales knew his journey was only beginning.
"Colombia is overwhelmed with Venezuelans," he said.
So he and his family kept going, but this time on foot, walking for 15 days and 1,200-kilometers (750 miles) until they crossed another border, with Ecuador, and reached the capital Quito.
Occasionally a kind-hearted motorist would ease their burden for a while, but most of the trip was on foot. Eventually, Carrizales and his family reached an improvised refuge on the outskirts of a bus terminal in the north of Quito.
Alongside more than 100 other Venezuelans, he spends day and night sheltering under black plastic sheets tied to a tree.
It's dusty and cold, and children huddle together to keep warm.
It's a tough existence, sleeping out in the open, but Carrizales still feels reborn.
- 'Everything turned upside down' -
In Venezuela, where some towns can rarely count on running water, "we were stinking," he recalls.
"Everything was turned upside down. I still can't believe it," he said, with unconsolable sadness tinging his voice.
The wave of migrants giving up on oil-rich Venezuela is putting a huge strain on the rest of the continent.
Colombia has already given temporary residence to 820,000 Venezuelans, but others have decided to keep heading south, on to places like Chile and even Uruguay.
Ecuador has declared an emergency after seeing some 4,200 migrants a day enter the country.
The United Nations Refugee Agency says almost 550,000 Venezuelans have entered Ecuador since the beginning of the year, most on foot and in precarious conditions.
Only 20 percent of those stay in Ecuador, the rest continue on to Peru and Chile, the UN says.
The problem for many migrants is that neighboring Colombia can be an inhospitable destination.
"In Colombia, Venezuelans are looked down upon," Nazareth Viloria told AFP, saying she felt prejudice. But even in Quito she met people who "cursed us."
She sleeps with her three children aged five, four and one in a tent next to a pile of donated clothes.
- No money, no shower -
Others write signs saying: "Venezuelan looking for work," to display on street corners.
Jhony Mora got lucky for seven months in Colombia, but then "the pay wasn't enough" - so the 23-year-old stuffed his backpack with his belongings and decided to head south towards Peru.
But he got "lucky" again and found work as a mason in Quito, earning dollars for good measure.
Ecuador has been dollarized since 2000 making its market tempting to Venezuelans, for whom the minimum monthly salary of 5.9 million bolivars back home fetches just $1.6 on the black market.
Still, most hope to scrape together enough money to leave their makeshift shelter and continue on their journey. In the meantime, they help each other by sharing food and cleaning implements, collecting clothes and tending to the sick.
Paramedic Miguel Ochoa arrived in Ecuador only six days ago. He sits at a plastic table with some scattered medicine packs listening to patients recount their woes, mostly problems caused by the cold and a lack of hygiene.
"Here, if you don't have a dollar to wash, you don't wash. If you don't have 10 cents, you can't use the toilet," Ochoa told AFP.
"It's not easy to get money," one of his patients adds.
© 2018 AFP