Hundreds and even thousands of Venezuelan migrants cross into Colombia each day, leaving behind chaos and deprivation. They’re hoping to find safety and economic opportunity in their neighbour nation or other countries farther south, such as Ecuador and Peru. But the journey is demanding, dangerous, and filled with uncertainty.
Who knows how they’ll handle the elements—wind, rain, sun, even snow? Where will they stay and what will they eat in Colombia? Will they be cheated or exploited? How will their bodies fare after days of walking uphill?
Because of these potential hardships, some migrants are leaving family members behind—mostly the young and old. They hope to find jobs and send back money to their relatives.
Eventually, many hope to reunite once they’ve established a new life in a new land. Or, perhaps, they will return home when Venezuela finally recovers from the current social crisis.
Samaritan’s Purse has two shelters for los caminantes, or walkers, in Colombia: one not far from the border outside Cucuta and one high in the Andes in a town called Berlin. Typically, hundreds of walkers are coming through each day.
Alcides, 29, was one of many men travelling the migrant trail in Colombia this winter and spring. He left behind his mother, his wife, and their children (1 and 4 years old) in Venezuela, hoping to find a way to support them. He stopped by our shelter in Berlin over two cold days of late February/early March.
“My baby has malnutrition. They’re eating yucca (a starch) every day,” he said. “My children told me send something so we can eat chicken. That makes me so sad.”
Alcides did construction in Venezuela, and his earnings weren’t nearly enough to put food on the table regularly. Diapers were affordable.
“It was difficult to leave my country because I was born there,” he said. “My family’s there. My home’s there, but I had to flee because of the need.”
Fighting for His Family
Alcides has 17 screws in his leg from a work accident back home. He walks with a slight limp, but he still presses on, trudging many hours a day with his 11 friends. He’s a little older than his companions—who look up to him—and they give him a helping hand as he tires each day. He’d been walking 10 days when he arrived in Berlin, heading south to the Colombian city of Buenaventura, a coastal destination that would probably take him an extra week or more to reach.
“I’m here to fight for my family,” he said. “Fighting because it is a fight to walk this way. It’s hard and intense because we [usually] have to sleep on the street. My pain is in my feet, my back, my spine.
“A normal day of walking is going from shelter to shelter [there are several non-Samaritan’s Purse shelters along the route]. There’s not an easy day. We wake up at 5 a.m. and get to bed at 10 p.m.”
He was very relieved to find our Berlin shelter, the only one at the height of the plateau. Los caminantes often refer to the area as “the freezer”—it is over 11,000 feet above sea level—and there are rumours that several migrants have died of exposure.
“We’re very grateful to you [Samaritan’s Purse],” he said. “If you didn’t have this shelter, we’d be out in the elements.”
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