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Venezuelans rush to Ecuadorian border to beat deadline for new visa requirements

Refugees wait at the Rumichaca International Bridge to enter Ecuador.

By Dylan Baddour

For months, Jose Amaya held out hope that his country would change. Even as his friends, family and neighbours abandoned Venezuela, with its hunger and violence, he refused to leave his home, his car and the only life he ever knew in the city of Maracaibo.

But earlier this month Ecuador, about 1,600km away, announced it would begin to require visas for Venezuelans from August 26, following similar moves by Chile and Peru. That was when Aymala, 54, concluded that time was running out for him and his three grandchildren.

”When we saw the news about the visa, we knew it was time,” he said as he waited amid thousands of his fellow displaced countrymen to cross Colombia’s cold and mountainous border into Ecuador while they still could. ”We practically gave up hope in Venezuela.”

Ronald Romero waits to enter Ecuador after hitchhiking and walking for over a month to reach the Colombia-Ecuador border,

Amaya echoed the feelings of many who stood wrapped in blankets beside heaped luggage at the border: Doors were closing to Venezuelan migrants while the political, economic and humanitarian crises that drove them from their homes only promised to deepen.

Amaya travelled with a group of 10 – neighbours and relatives, children and adults – who had gotten together and sold off a Chevy Malibu, AC units, furniture and a PlayStation to buy bus passes across Colombia to meet his 21-year-old son in the Ecuadoran capital of Quito.

He was among the more fortunate who waited at the border. Many with nothing to sell had arrived on foot from Venezuela to beat the Ecuadorian deadline. Others had left their country more than a year ago but struggled to get by in Colombia and turned up at the border in their latest attempt to find some means to survive.

“I don’t think even my family will ever believe what I’ve been through,” said Ronald Romero, 25, who wore slippers because he said a trucker who has picked him up hitchhiking had stolen his shoes, phone and the money he had saved to buy a bus ticket. “I’ve been hungry, tired, cold. I’ve cried plenty because I’m all alone.”

He left Venezuela six months ago but could not find work in Colombia, he said, so he planned to walk to find his sister in Argentina, more than 4,828km away.

About 4,500 Venezuelans have crossed this border daily since Ecuador announced the new visa requirement earlier this month, according to Jorge Pantoja, secretary of public safety for the nearby city of Ipiales. That is up from an average of between 1,800 and 2,200 Venezuelans a day before the announcement, he said.

Up to 7,800 Venezuelans a day could pass through this weekend as Ecuador’s deadline looms, he said.

That flood has prompted Colombia’s migration authority to expand services at the 24-hour border crossing between the two countries to cut down wait times, which can reach beyond 15 hours, so as to decrease the number of Venezuelans forced to spend the nights outside in this chilly city at 2,895-metre elevation, where temperatures after dark often dip to near-four degrees Celsius.

Nearly 500,000 Venezuelans have left Colombia via this border crossing since the start of this year, according to Colombian migration authorities.

The vast majority show up to the border without passports, which are nearly impossible to get in their country. They then apply for a special improvised ID on the Colombian side which gets them access to Ecuador. After the new visa rule takes effect on Monday, only Venezuelans with passports who have applied and paid for visas will be able to cross into Ecuador.

Nearly 350,000 Venezuelans currently live in Ecuador, which has recently seen rising tensions between Ecuadorans and immigrants. The UN estimates that as many as 500,000 could be in the country by the end of the year. When discussing the possibility of new visa restrictions last month, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said, “everything has a limit.”

Venezuelans crossing the border into Colombia earlier this year.

One young couple, 31-year-old Dais Ojeda and 28-year-old Dargur Rodriguez, had spent two years living in eastern Colombia, near Venezuela, with their two children, aged six and eight. She sold coffee in the street and he worked in construction. But as the months went by, even more Venezuelans poured into the small Colombian city where they lived and work became harder to find. Every day they struggled to put food on the table until they began to realise they would have to move on.

When they heard that Ecuador would soon be closing to Venezuelans without passports, they left home and headed west, walking and hitchhiking with the kids for 10 days to reach the border.

They heard things were better in Ecuador. But they were not sure exactly where they would go or what work they might find.

“We’ll figure that out when we get there,” Ojeda said as she waited in line with her family at the border.

Nearby, 31-year-old Roni Blanco sat on the cold concrete rubbing his foot where it had worn through his sock in the pink foam slippers he wore.

For a year and two months, he has worked in several mechanic shops in the Colombian capital, Bogota. His goal was to save money to get his children and parents out of Venezuela, but each day his earnings went straight to food and rent. As more Venezuelans arrived he found himself frequently out of work, so he hiked eight days to this border before it closed.

“The idea is to get work and bring my family,” he said, sitting with two companions he met along way. “We don’t know what city we’re going to because we don’t know anything about Ecuador.”

Colombia has protested restrictive immigration measures in other South American countries as the continent grapples with a four million-person exodus from Venezuela, which the Organization of American States has predicted could hit eight million by the end of next year if nothing significant changes. The more countries that close their doors to Venezuelan migrants, the more will be stuck in Colombia, which shares a 1,900km border with Venezuela and hosts more Venezuelans than any other nation – approximately 1.4 million.

A Venezuelan woman’s documents are checked by a border agent on Tuesday.

Humanitarian groups have warned that such restrictions will only drive the migration underground.

“It worries us that the new visa for Venezuelans may have negative impacts,”a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Bogota told Al Jazeera. “In the experience of the UNHCR, measures to restrict access don’t necessarily create a decrease in the flow of migration, and instead can put people at risk using illegal border crossings controlled by delinquent groups.”

At the border, 30-year-old Yurima Gutierrez also doubted that visa requirements would stop Venezuelans from coming to Ecuador, recalling how easily she had entered Colombia through informal and unpoliced patches across the border.

Just two weeks before she had been laid off as a business administrator for a subsidiary of Venezuela’s decrepit state oil firm, PdVSA, and given a severance pay that allowed her to buy only four kilograms of flour. Nearly panicked, she realised the only way to feed her four children was to leave the country immediately, so she left the oldest two with relatives and took the younger ones across Colombia to Ecuador.

“You can’t stop Venezuelans from leaving because the Venezuelans don’t have any choice,” she said, huddled in a blanket with her two children among the throngs of her countrymen as night set at the border. “There is no future in Venezuela.”
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Credit: Al Jazeera, www.aljazeera.com

43 thoughts on “Venezuelans rush to Ecuadorian border to beat deadline for new visa requirements

  1. Can someone explain how the new requirements singling out Venezuelans for additional requirements can be constitutional under Ecuador’s Constitution? Please explain how this change differs from the one struck down last year as unconstitutional.

    1. I hope you are right jnack. Age and travel have made me into an Aquinas/Donne adherent. Cruel and unjust laws and/or their imposition, whether “constitutional” or not, only excite deep contempt in me. Too many of our species use them to practice or tolerate all sorts of horrors upon each other. On the one hand, we widely make a virtue of helping fellow citizens, (I am thinking of the wonderful outpouring of Cuenca help during the coastal earthquake a few years ago) on the other, we turn our backs to those in dire need a short distance away if from another country. The ugly logic escapes me.

      If I may paraphrase: “Any human suffering diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. Therefore do not send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for us.”

        1. If suffering is involved? NO. Humans should go as far as possible to save others. Or would you be one of those who beat off desperate drowners trying to find a place in your lifeboat. Are you one of those who would beat them on the head with an oar? Did you know that they calculate that there was enough lifeboat space for the majority of those who were savable when the Titanic sank to be saved? Panic and pathetic self-interest denied them sanctuary. You open the door do that.

          Immigrants are people looking for a new life. That is one thing. But refugees are fleeing for their lives and I cannot distinguish Maduro from a fire, a sinking ship, a drought, starvation or any life-threatening disaster. ALL the Venezuelans I have met in Ecuador dream of the day they can return home.

          1. Is “suffering” your only criterion, or main criterion as a valid reason to immigrate? What if they are not suffering, according to you? Why stop at suffering? Shouldn’t anyone who wishes to immigrate be able to do so?

            1. Suffering eliminates all other considerations.

              After that, we must look to the second level realities which are function of a nation’s capacity to economically assimilate others. That is normally 1% of the current population..which will vary with the health and reproduction rate of the target nation and the skills and intelligence of those accepted.

              If we use the same analogy. a refugee is someone who drowning at the side of your lifeboat which still has capacity.

              An immigrant, is someone who thinks your lifeboat is prettier or cheaper than his and would prefer to leave his for yours.

              A fine immigrant is someone who can increase the chances of your lifeboat’s success.

              An expat is someone who can live anywhere he/she chooses, money no factor.

              The highest priority should go to refugees.

              1. “Suffering” is easily claimed and faked. Anyone can claim suffering at any time. I’m suffering from the blatant ignorance of some of the posts on CHL. Political definitions of suffering are malleable, depending on the political correctness of the moment. Determination of reasons for immigrating at the border are usually quite subjective. IOW, “suffering” is a criteria that is easily abused, corrupted and politicized. SOS.
                The ability to economically assimilate is just more govt-determined criteria, aka govt BS. If govt’s would simply get out of the way, everyone could go to work tomorrow. There are trillions of things that people want, and trillions of things people want done. Likewise, there are billions of other people who are willing to go to work to satisfy those desires. Full employment for any human being who wants to work is always available tomorrow. The problem is mandated minimum wage laws, mandatory health care benefits, mandatory thefts from paychecks, such as income tax withholding schemes, social security programs, govt health care schemes, and similar items that greatly reduce employability. The hassles are simply not worth it to prospective employers for may types of work. So for govt to have the say-so about “economic assimilation ability” holds no merit. Govt creates the problem, then gets to determine the limits of how the “problem” may be dealt with. More BS.
                Anyone should be able to migrate anywhere they wish. One condition: No welfare payments of any kind to non-citizens. That removes the incentive for foreigners to immigrate for freebies. People coming here, or immigrating anywhere must know that they will have to either make it on their own, connect with family/relatives/others known to them for assistance, or go to private charitable orgs for temporary assistance. No one “owes” foreign immigrants anything just for showing up. If people are willing to voluntarily help out, then great. I’d be happy to help, as long as I help directly to someone I’ve met. I’ve got work available they could do. Others may be OK with helping anonymously or through charitable orgs.

    2. The one last year was struck down by the legitimate Constitutional Court. Moreno has since sacked all the justices and replaced them with handpicked lackeys, several of whom aren’t even legally qualified to be on the court. Whatever Moreno tells them to say is Constitutional is Constitutional. You should probably give up any hope of the rule of law returning to Ecuador anytime soon.

      1. The “Rule of Law” is merely a suggestion of decorum for certain people. It’s for appearances sake, you see…

  2. why doesn’t the block function work ? I have tried multiple times to block the rabid left wing outpourings of jnack, globetrotter and faulkner but they keep showing up …

    1. I have challenged them many times to go live in the communist countries and dictatorships they so admire and are constantly advocating. They fail to recognize the atrocities these communist countries and dictatorships are doing to their people.

      But they are far to comfy with their cushy pension or income they are receiving from the free and democratic countries they are from. Yes they have earned it and worked hard for it but so have people from the communist countries and dictatorships worked for their nest egg but they are not getting it because the dictators at the top are stealing from the people and lining their own pockets.

      And to add insult to injury these people with the cushy life bash and degrade these free and democratic countries that are giving them the freedom to speak out and giving them the freedom to view newspapers and publication from all over the world even though some are fake news and some information is deliberately not accurate. We here have that freedom but the people in China (for example) don’t have the freedom to access everything around the world.

      Do they appreciate what they have? NO They are too busy with their US hatred. They thrive on their bitterness and contempt and can not live without it

      1. “NO They are too busy with their US hatred. They thrive on their bitterness and contempt and can not live without it.”
        ________________________________________________________________

        You don’t get it yet Es. If the shoe fits, wear it.

        Hate is a thing that is inherent in Americans, the Taliban..Isis,etc cutures, but it hasn’t yet swamped mine. Yet I feel sad for Americans and what they are doing to the planet. Isn’t that reason enough for my mixture of hate and compassion? I just wish you would stop spreading pain, to yourselves and the world.

        BTW, without touching upon racial or ethnic animosities that America was founded on and which your alma mater puts on display daily, aren’t YOU a hater of leftist, socialist, communist, liberal etc cultures? That encompasses almost the entire planet!

      2. You think the US is a “free” country??? Ask Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Tim DeChristopher if the US is “free”.

        1. Bee Bee. You don’t have to search that far. I have traveled the world and posted on forums in three languages and a dozen countries since the dawn of the internet. I still do. And up to now, the ONLY place I have ever had a post rejected, including FOX, is in Cuenca, Ec on this forum.

          People bring their culture with them. You will notice that both Democrats and Republicans persecute those who reveal truth and government illegal overreach… even when they merely post it verbatim.

          “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy…”

          1. Your post has nothing whatsoever with mine. You are only using my post to brag about your travel and languages.

            And comparing having your post rejected to what Snowden, Manning, and DeChristopher have been through is ignorant and ahistorical.

            Please don’t respond to anymore of my posts. You are way off-topic and self-serving.

        2. Why the need to up-vote your own post? You chide globetrotter for virtue signaling (which he certainly is guilty of) but you lose the moral high ground when you do something so vain as upvoting your own posts.

          1. Why do you care? You have too much time on your hands. Checking everyone’s likes. Petty and small. Get a life.

    2. you need to pay more attention to the multiple disasters brought on by the right wingers not just here but US as well // why you should be allowed to air your hatred for all that is good of Americans and you want bright and articulate man jnack to go into silence ///

      1. Dodd, it is not their way. They follow the leader. They constantly attack messengers on a personal level, not a substantive one. It has become the curse of the anglophone world..Americans, Australians, Little Englishmen, western Canadians. There is NO desire in them for dialogue. The two Bobs pretty much speak for the subset.

        If I tried that level of unattributive attack rhetoric, CHL I wouldn’t me allowed a single post. This is an American forum, not a Cuencan one, and CHL monitoring and cherry-picked articles keeps it that way. Of course, the Cuencan/Ecuadorian expat demographic is changing along with the world. However, at the end of the day, they excite pity and compassion than anything else.

        1. This is an English-language forum aimed at English-language speakers and the articles are picked accordingly, which isn’t to say I agree with all the choices. There are plenty of sites for Ecuadorians and Cuencanos (not Cuencans, by the way) in Spanish and you might want to check those out.

        2. Wow attacking the anglophone world. Now I understand your hatred for the US is actually a hatred for anglophones. You are not on these sites to make life better for people. You are on these sites to promote hatred. Shame on you.

      2. I forgot to name you on the list that I have tried to block … I will have to stop reading the comments as blocking has failed many times.

      3. that didn’t male any sense /// ‘air my hatred for all that is good of americans’ ? /// Ecuadorians are american. you mean people from the US ? /// I don’t have hatred. I am middle of the road and get bored with left wing and neo-nazi ramblings ///

    3. I am a lifelong fiscal conservative libertarian. Your head in the sand attitude of not wanting to read what others that don’t share your beliefs have to say is puerile. You have an intense scanning bias that causes you to seek out only voices that agree with you. That is as useful as standing in front of the mirror and talking to yourself.

      If you don’t know what those that don’t think as you are saying, how can you intelligently refute any of their beliefs? Do you really think you will expand your horizons by cheering on and upvoting those that parrot the same words you use and the way you think?

      1. I know what they are thinking … they spread their nonsense every day. they think all mainstream news sources are corrupt but quote obscure left wing web sites as if they are gospel when they have no credibility outside of the converts. I have read enough to not want to see anymore. I am middle of the road … not right wing … you presume right wing because I don’t agree with your constant posts. I dislike neo-nazis as much as the rabid left wing. Disqus says they have a block feature … I am just asking how I can use that.

        1. With that attitude, you are beyond help and beyond hope.

          “Don’t bother me with facts, logic and reason! My mind is already made up and there is nothing you can do or say to change it.”

          You directed this at Charlie: ” you presume right wing because I don’t agree with your constant posts.”

          What “constant posts”? I seldom see him post at all. Can you direct me to some of his posts that indicate that he is left wing? He claims to be a fiscal conservative libertarian, Can you point to anything that would allow you to characterize him as being left wing?

          1. oops … I meant to say ‘their’.
            facts ? that is my point. whenever you dispute something they quote an obscure source that has no credibility … that is the real waste of time. been there … done that.

            1. Could you be a little more specific? What obscure sources do “they” cite and what sources do you have that trump theirs? Why are your sources better than theirs? Do you at least post links to them, or just vaguely allude to them?

  3. how do you block someone on here ? I have tried many times using the Disqus method and it hasn’t worked. I am over seeing the outpouring of leftist stuff from jnack, globetrotter and faulkner

    1. Even a petulant child would simply not read any posts they don’t care to see instead of wasting time trying to block them. I assume you realize that when you block someone, all you do is make their posts invisible to you, not the rest of the world. The metaphor for this is the ostrich putting his head in the sand to block out what he is afraid of.

      Of course a mature and truly intellectual adult would take the time to refute something you don’t believe, but I guess if all you want is an echo chamber of those that share your views, your approach works for you.

      1. whenever you dispute something they quote an obscure source that has no credibility … that is the real waste of time. been there … done that.

  4. They are going to start sending over 100 busses a week to the border and bringing them to Cuenca. They tell them that the rich Gringos will take care of them all.

    1. I would welcome that..I VERY much enjoy helping people..BUT;

      1. There are precious few “rich gringos” in Cuenca. Can you point to any? Most gringos in Ecuador are …er….less than flush.

      2. Venezuelans wlll return to Venezuela when its “troubles” are over. The infrastructure (now poorly-functioning and not maintained) is far more developed than Ecuador’s and the resource base is far more abundant.

      They are here simply because they can’t survive there., not out of any love for Ecuador. They are here because they can’t do so from where they came from. Sound familiar?

  5. It is heartbreaking to learn of the plight of everyday Venezuelans. Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, Peru and other countries have opened their doors to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans. But, realistically, there is a limit to how many people those countries can absorb.

    No country can welcome hordes of outsiders without there being pretty serious consequences in the hosting country. Are there jobs for these people? Is there adequate housing for these people? To survive, will these people resort to criminal activity? If the host country is having trouble taking care of its own citizens, how can it provide services for half a million people who suddenly pour into the country? People with little or no money, no place to live, no job and kids in tow that will require schooling. While many people want to help, many people in these countries are hard-pressed to make their own living. How much can be expected of them in the way of providing for others.

    People need to be realistic when it comes to governments requiring visas or other legal papers fin order to allow immigrants/refugees to cross their borders. It is seldom as “black-and-white” as some people want it to be.

    1. Sir, your post is a good example of what I was advocating in my reply to Bob James. You pose many important questions without attacking people that may not think as you do. The issues you raise are the ones that we should be discussing and not this divisive right vs left nonsense that seems to be prevalent in today’s society.

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