Rigorous measures against the corona pandemic in Latin America affect the millions of Venezuelan migrants harder than local populations on the continent. The closure of borders with neighbouring countries also has far-reaching consequences for Venezuelans at home. International action is needed to avoid a worsening humanitarian drama.
Mid-March, the Colombian government declared a state of emergency because of COVID-19, and abruptly closed its borders with Venezuela. In response, local authorities transported undocumented Venezuelans across the country to the border in hundreds of buses. Since informal businesses dried up and local soup kitchens closed in Cúcuta, the largest border town in Colombia, Venezuelan migrants are facing new difficulties. Thousands of Venezuelans have been allowed to return home, but only after being publicly fumigated with an unknown substance and quarantined in empty schools without proper sanitation.
The Venezuelan exodus is currently the second largest refugee crisis in the world. Since the economic and social crisis deepened in 2015, an estimated five million Venezuelans have left their country. They mainly migrated because of mindboggling inflation, scarcity of basic goods and services, malnutrition, chronic un(der)employment, rising crime and violent repression. Of all countries in Latin America, Colombia gives refuge to the biggest share of Venezuelan migrants, approximately 1.8 million. Other migrants have travelled further to Ecuador, Peru or Chili – many of them by foot.
The majority of the Venezuelan migrants finds employment in the informal labour sector as a street vendor of basic goods, as a day labourer in mining areas, in drugs trade or in the prostitution. The swift absorption in the informal labour markets has allowed many of them to rapidly send remittances to family in Venezuela. However, with the corona pandemic spreading in Latin America, host countries suddenly face their own economic and health crisis for which they have taken radical measures. Peru, Ecuador, Chili and Colombia implemented lockdowns at an early stage. In order to relieve public hospitals and prevent the virus from spreading, the Brazilian government also closed its borders.
This is the beginning of a longer article, which you can read here: https://spectator.clingendael.org/en/publication/covid-19-measures-latin-america-affect-venezuelans-twice
Edwin Koopman is journalist specialized on Latin American and Eva van Roekel is assistant professor at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the VU.