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Venezuelan migrants flee Colombian quarantine for their shattered homeland

SOPO, Colombia Carrying small children in their biceps or packing suitcases, typically the Venezuelan migrant workers trudged along the shoulder on the highway which will runs northeast out of Colombia’s capital Bogota, the first ways on a long plus unexpected journey home.

Hundreds of poor Venezuelans are heading back to their economically-devastated country themselves – hunted down out of their adopted home by a coronavirus quarantine making it impossible so they can earn a living.

Colombia has become the best destination for Venezuelans fleeing their own country’s catastrophe – several 1 . 6 million include arrived in the past few years – but a 19-day nationwide lockdown has stopped the casual sector just where many operate, plunging all of them into thankfully and forcing an instant reversal within migratory runs.

Despite challenges in Venezuela, which is gripped by hyperinflation and a six-year recession, many migrants declared at least inside their homeland they do not have to pay book or utilities and will be reunited with loved ones.

“There are thousands who want to return to Venezuela, ” stated Johnny Antonio Madronedo, thirty four, who employed to make a living accumulating items to recycling on Bogota’s streets although no longer offers money to hold a roofing over their head. “I can’t live on the street with my family. ”

The Venezuelan border is about 550 mi. (340 miles) from the Colombian capital, which in turn sits an excellent source of the Andes Mountains. Long-distance bus solutions have been ceased because of the pen, so migrant workers said they have no choice but to walk.

The journey takes between two in addition to three weeks.

Madronedo explained the hardest portion would be succeeding Colombia’s cool, high-altitude wetlands: “We’ll have to wrap up and look for transport. ”

For many, Colombia had looked almost a paradise following widespread shortages in Venezuela. Yet migrant workers who performed selling candy, food as well as other objects on the avenues, dropping off deliveries, holding out tables as well as in development have seen do the job dry up as Colombians retreated to their domiciles under government orders.

Empty streets and shuttered organizations also mean fewer passersby to request change, leaving migrants hungry or unable to pay daily rent for his or her modest accommodation.

“With coronavirus it’s not the same, ” said 23-year-old migrant Paul Regales, who used to sell trash bags on the streets of Bogota. “We make our living from people being on the streets, and if there is no one just how do we work? ”

Regales, who walks on crutches after his right leg was amputated, said he was evicted from his rented room because he could not pay the $3. 60 daily fee.

He arrived in Bogota 18 months ago but was heading home to the Venezuelan city of Valencia on Thursday.

“It’s not that it will be quick, but all of us don’t give rent there, we’ll be around family, ” said Regales. “If wish together it’s better. ”

With fear of coronavirus raging in Venezuela, where many hospitals lack running water and medical equipment, the migrants face an uncertain welcome. Some people returning from Colombia told Reuters they had been bused to cities in Venezuela and then forcibly quarantined in dire conditions.

In the Venezuelan border state of Tachira, all returnees will be required to quarantine, officials have said.


Commercial trucks plying the highway outside Bogota, allowed to operate during the lockdown, had in the past sometimes let migrants hitch a ride. Now the drivers pull over less often , migrants said, amid fears of contagion.

Many migrants expressed hope Colombia’s government might provide transport, food and water, or that Venezuela would send buses to take them to their hometowns.

But with the border officially closed and both governments scrambling to respond to the pandemic, help looked unlikely.

A U. N. report this week said informal border crossings continue to function and thousands of Venezuelan migrants are slipping across covertly.

“We can’t work mainly because everyone reproaches us, ignores us. We don’t sell anything, ” said 28-year-old Yosbeli Quintero, as she cradled her 9-month-old son.

Quintero, her husband, some cousins and friends are making their way back to the small town of Cambural, near the city of Barquisimeto in northern Venezuela.

Francy Florez, who owns a restaurant in Sopo, on the highway about 40 kms outside Bogota, told Reuters she sees at least 150 migrants walk past in small groups every day.

Some migrants said they had heard of Venezuelans beginning to walk home from Ecuador, southwest of Colombia, but Reuters was not able to independently verify that claim.

“Some are getting back to their country of beginning, in some cases for the reason that pandemic implies we are all going back home, ” Juan Francisco Espinosa, the director of Colombia’s migration agency, told Reuters. “The borders are closed all of us cannot do entrances or perhaps exits. ”

Only crossings for “humanitarian” reasons like medical urgent situation will be helped, Espinosa claimed.