Why is there unrest in Venezuela

Venezuela crisis : Why hundreds of thousands are leaving their homes

With a backpack on his back, a television in his arms, $ 50 in his pocket and desperate hope, Gregory Ruiz stood in a long line a few months ago at the border bridge to Colombia. He turned his back on Venezuela.

"In my homeland there is no work and nothing to eat," he told a Colombian reporter. He sold the television in the Colombian border town of Cúcuta for a few hundred dollars. His start-up capital did not last long.

Now the 24-year-old sleeps in the city park, eats in soup kitchens and is desperately looking for work. He learned to be a carpenter, but he would do anything. But jobs are rare in the border town, where hundreds of new refugees arrive every day. Still, he doesn't want to go back, says Díaz.

“At least I have something to eat here.” Venezuela, once the richest and most politically stable country in South America with its oil, attracted migrants from all over the region in the 1970s and 1980s. Now the youth are fleeing, the middle class is fleeing - and meanwhile also poor people like Ruiz, who comes from the slum Petare of the capital Caracas, are fleeing.

Largest mass exodus on the continent

Almost three of the 30 million Venezuelans live abroad, according to surveys by the “Voice of the Diaspora” organization. According to a conservative estimate by the United Nations, based on the population registers of the recipient countries, the number is only 1.5 million. Nevertheless, according to the UN refugee agency, it is currently the largest mass exodus in Latin America.

It was triggered by the crash of Venezuela, whose economy has shrunk by a third since President Nicolás Maduro took office in 2013. The crime rate has also skyrocketed, and repression against the opposition has escalated. And hyperinflation is eating up wages; Hunger and disease are spreading.

Those who can afford it buy a plane ticket. Panama, Peru, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Spain, the United States, Canada, and Israel are among the most popular middle class destinations. The poor take the bus to the national borders and walk to Colombia or Brazil. Or they hire a fishing boat and try to reach the offshore islands of Aruba or Curacao.

Half of the residents want to leave

“The last great wave of refugees began in 2015 and has accelerated exponentially since then,” says the director of the “Voice of the Diaspora” observatory, Tomas Paez. “Because of the galloping inflation, 82 percent of all Venezuelans have plunged into poverty. As a university professor, I only earn the equivalent of seven dollars a month. ”According to a survey by the Datincorp Institute, 57 percent of all residents want to leave the country.

Around 600,000 Venezuelans live in Colombia, that is the majority of the refugees. 300,000 Venezuelans are registered in the USA, 210,000 in Spain and 120,000 in Chile. The number of unreported cases is likely to be high; many Venezuelans come in as tourists and then simply stay; others have dual nationalities.

The neighboring countries are now alarmed. "Latin America is not prepared for such a crisis," warns Patricia Andrade from the US refugee group Venezuela Awareness. Border towns like Macao and Cúcuta in Colombia or Boa Vista in Brazil had to set up refugee camps, mobile health stations and soup kitchens.

Entry only with cash

The flow of immigrants is Colombia's most acute problem, declared President Juan Manuel Santos and increased the military presence in the border region. Aruba and Curacao closed their national borders and require every newcomer to Venezuelan to show US $ 1,000 in cash.

The Brazilian border nest Pacaraima has tripled its population to 30,000 within a few months due to the Venezuelan refugees. Begging, prostitution and street robbery have increased. Again and again there are xenophobic incidents and uncontrollable tumult at the border crossings.

Venezuela's socialist government, which caused the disaster, is turning a deaf ear despite the emigration. It suits the unpopular socialists anyway when the dissatisfied leave the country.

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