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Inflation in Venezuela is likely to reach the million percent this year. The IMF expects that this will rise to no less than 10 million percent in 2019. Salaries and savings are therefore no longer worth anything. Food and medicine are barely available and in the streets of Caracas the rules the survival of the fittest. The result is that millions of Venezuelans flee to countries in Central and South America. Meanwhile, the crisis in Venezuela begins to work disruptive in countries like Peru. The end of the exodus seems far from in sight.

Refugees from Venezuela crossing the border between Peru and Ecuador.

A bridge over a stinking open sewer to the north of the city of Tumbes forms the border between Peru and Ecuador. The smell of rotting meat in the burning sun is horrible. Every day thousands of refugees from Venezuela arrive here in Peru.

Five young men who have just crossed the border walk behind each other, the gaze tightly focused on the endless asphalt. In a backpack and some plastic bags they wear some clothes and a toilet roll. They have been on their way for 15 days and are exhausted. The dream of setting up their own company in a new country and building a new life with them, keeps them going.

A few miles away is a large refugee center where the Venezuelans have to register. There is a long cue in front of the immigration office. In this case, more than hundreds of recently arrived refugees wait sometimes two days before they receive the right papers that entitles them to stay in Peru. Children with a hollow look in the eyes, men with broken shoes and women with swollen feet show a long journey from Venezuela. Many have walked the more than 1000 miles long route through Colombia and Ecuador to Peru. Families keep a close eye on their possessions, because the chance of a robbery is real. “Recently a family was attacked that had just arrived in Peru. Even the children’s shoes were stolen, “says Sandra Chinchay from aid organization Encuentros. “Children are malnourished and dehydrated or have infections. The lack of proper nutrition ensures that many children have a developmental delay, “adds an employee of the Red Cross. The refugees receive water, basic medical care and can connect via WiFi with family they have not spoken for months.

Almost nobody in Venezuela escapes the crisis: even the rich inhabitants have nothing to do with their money due to extreme inflation. Most people flee to Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador or Peru. “I stayed until it really did not work anymore”, says Isabela Lluch (43). “I had a good job as a civil engineer and my husband was paid in dollars. As a result, we could still eat on the black market. But then my daughter got an inflammation in her face. We visited the best clinic in the country, but we had to take care of medicines, water and clean sheets ourselves. We had to fly medicines through relatives abroad. That was the first shock of reality. On the streets it became increasingly unsafe due to the many protests. During one of the protests we had to hide for security forces in a bakery’s fridge. Then came the realization: we have to leave the country “. In a short period of time, Venezuela changed from a relatively rich country to a country where most of the population lives in poverty, including doctors, lawyers and teachers. With the salary of a lawyer you can not buy a pack of rice. “I saw children and adults searching for food in the garbage. My girlfriend lost her baby because she was severely malnourished”, Jordania Romeiro Calderon (35) says with tears in her eyes.

Refugees from Venezuela on their way to the Tumbes Refugee Centre in the northern Peruvian city Tumbes.

The richer Venezuelans can easily build up a new life in another country thanks to their money. But now the exodus has jumped to the poorer and less promising layers of the population. Nevertheless, Peru has a tolerant admission policy. “Many Peruvians fled to Venezuela in the 1970s and 1980s for the terror of the Shining Path. That is why there are many family ties between those two countries. Peruvians feel it’s a duty to be hospitable now”, spokeswoman Regina de la Portilla of the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee organization says. The numbers of refugees are so big that the UNHCR is rapidly scaling up.

The government in the Peruvian capital Lima is overloaded due to the enormous numbers of refugees. For example, the government implemented an interpol check to see who is entering the country. However, the capacity of this international police service does not exceed 100 inspections per day, while more than 5000 refugees arrive in the country on peak days. The result is long queues in the streets of Lima. “We estimate that around 200,000 Venezuelans in the capital are trying to build a new life. Whole families live in small apartments, often in bad neighborhoods of the city. The rest is moving to other cities”, De La Portilla says, who is worried about the expected influx in the coming year. The estimate is that another half a million refugees are coming to Peru. According to the UN spokeswoman, there is a chance that the open attitude of the Peruvians will change. “The poorer Venezuelans often have no education and fewer capacities to integrate. The health conditions of this group are worse, which means that greater use is being made of health care. Especially the poor Peruvians are afraid that their jobs will be taken. We also suffer from fake news, such as the rumor that all women from Venezuela are HIV positive”.

Whether the solution to the crisis in their country must come from inside or outside the Venezuelans are divided. But they agree on one thing: President Maduro, often called ‘the man’, must go as soon as possible. As soon as that is realized, they can fulfill their deeply cherished dream: the return to their homeland.

Facts about the Venezuelacrisis:
• The crisis in Venezuela started in 2010 and worsened in 2015 due to the sharp decline in oil revenues. The economy has shrunk by almost 20 percent a year in recent years.
• The Maduro government announced a state of emergency in January 2016. Opposition members are intimidated, tortured and imprisoned according to Amnesty. Foreign media are barred.
• Hyperinflation, hunger, lack of health care and insecurity lead to a massive outflow. Both inflation and the number of murders are among the highest in the world.
• In the meantime, 3 million Venezuelans fled their country (around 10 percent of the population), mainly to Latin America and the Caribbean. The UN expects another million people to leave Venezuela in 2019.

(c) www.NB-journalism.com 2019