The story begins on the Venezuelan border in 2019, in the midst of the greatest exodus in the history of America. From here the route continues south along the Andes mountain range, crossing Colombia and Ecuador until it reaches Peru, today home to almost 1 million Venezuelan citizens. The journey takes us through border crossings, highlands and shelters, as we accompany migrants and refugees on their escape route.
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"You can't be in Venezuela, maybe if you are a politician, part of the military, or a merchant and you raise your prices, but the working class Venezuelan can no longer be there, because with a minimum wage absolutely nothing can be done."
Every day, thousands of Venezuelans cross the border into Colombia in search of a better future. Here in Cucuta, amid the chaos, informality and survival, the exodus begins.
"I came with a guy that had 2 daughters; a new born and a 2 year old. We met on the bus, he had arepas, I had some soda, and we shared, we helped eachother. He had a lot of suitcases and kids so I helped him to cross the border. Then I asked him, how are you going to Peru? and he replied, I don't know, by foot."
"The majority go to Ecuador, Peru, Chile. Destinations like Rumichaca, Ibarra, Quito, Guayaquil, Tumbes,the border of Peru, Piura, Chiclayo, Arequipa, Tacna. A lot of Venezuelans go to Peru, especially to Lima."
This is the most dangerous part of the route out of Colombia due to the high altitude and extreme weather. A network of volunteers assist refugees in shelters along the way to prevent them from dying from hypothermia. Seventeen Venezuelan "caminantes" or walkers have already lost their lives in this area.
"A lot of people die crossing the Berlin Peak, extreme cold makes their body stiff. The hope is to get a ride to cross this part, and then keep on walking..."
Diana is travelling with her 10-month-old baby. They are waiting for someone to help them so that they do not have to cross the Berlin Peak on foot. If they do, it is very likely that the baby will not resist the low temperatures.
"I put my friend's little boy on my shoulders and started jogging, so he could move a bit, because it's more dangerous for children than for us, we can resist more. Then we took our jackets off and gave them to the little boy because his lips were turning purple..."
Camila is 3 years old and has walked to Pamplona from Cúcuta with her mother. She is eating fruit in a shelter while they rest before continuing walking. The destination is Bogotá, capital of Colombia, 500 km away.
Help centers distributed along the route provide assistance and a plate of food to the thousands of caminantes heading south.
"If you are not well protected or you are wet, you can die from hypothermia, that's the problem. This is a critical zone, it's a matter of survival, that's why there's so many groups helping along the route. Twenty thousand walkers are assisted by the Humanitarian Network on this route. Twenty-thousand each month! That's a lot of people."
Colombia is the country with the most Venezuelan immigrants (1'630,903 Oct.2019), and one of the few in the region that kept its borders open when the rest were closing their doors.
It takes from four days to three weeks to go through Colombia. Cali, Medellín and Bogotá are the most popular transit cities, places to work and get some money in order to continue with the journey.
"They asked us: where are you going? and we would say to Pasto! and Colombians would say to Pasto? thats so fucking far away! Venecos, you still have a long way to go! and they would start laughing! - I know. - But really, where are you going? - To Perú! - To Perú??? Oh you are crazy! so crazy! Stay here in Colombia, there's work here!"
Since August 26th 2019 Ecuador has demanded a visa from Venezuelans who wish to enter the country. Those who did not make it on time sleep on the streets and in shelters near the border while they wait for an announcement of a possible extension that allows them to enter into Ecuador.
"Without the humanitarian visa you could no longer enter. That visa involves paperwork and costs US$50, you also need a passport. For the average Venezuelan family, it's almost impossible to get a passport, the minimum wage is US$3, imagine getting 50..."
"My son has Duchenne's muscular dystrophy. I arrived at the border yesterday and I was rejected. It's very painful, I'm a refugee in Peru, I left to go get my son since in Peru they are helping me with the medicines and therapies he needs. His disease has no cure, and even knowing this, they didn't let me go through."
Most learned of the new restrictions upon reaching the border, after having crossed Colombia. For those who do not have a passport, the only option is to enter illegally, putting their lives at risk in the hands of mafias and coyotes.
"whoever is going to Peru raise your hand ..."
"Venezuelans have migrated to Latin America, and we know Latin American countries are underdeveloped, just like Venezuela. Governments have agreed to prevent them from entering because they are harming Ecuadorian, Peruvian, Chilean and Argentinian workers, since they are willing to work for less."
"We were 2 or 3 hours at the border, in Rumichaca. Since we couldn't get in we got in a van that took us through a trail. It cost $15 per person. We were a group of 10, and the driver was looking out for the police. if they caught us we would lose all of our money. They left us in a small town, and from there we got in a bus to Quito
The capital of Ecuador is a transit city to Peru. The high cost of living, xenophobia and the strict immigration policies in this country make it a less attractive destination..
"People here haven't received Venezuelans well. They say kids from other countries come in and then our children are left without education. This hurts because Ecuador is also a country of immigrants. I would be so hurt if I left my country and they judge me like a thug. Why? because I'm poor? Because I'm in need?"
Sonia and her 3 children were victims of xenophobia in Peru. For this reason, after a year living in Lima, they have decided to go to Bogota to try their luck. They are in Quito to collect some money before continuing with the trip.
It is an 11-hour bus trip (or around 2 weeks on foot) from Quito to the border between Ecuador and Peru.
On June 15th, after 1 year of favorable immigration policies, Peru closed its doors to Venezuelan migrants and refugees. At midnight, a police cordon surrounded the area, the order was that no vehicle carrying Venezuelan citizens should pass.
The main entrance to Peru is through the Binational Assistance Center (CEBAF) in Tumbes.
As of January 2020, 861,665 Venezuelans had entered Peru regularly.
394,195 had applied for refugee status.
The beach town of Mancora is an attractive destination for many Venezuelans. Here they can find work in hotels, restaurants and as tour guides.
"My name is Jesus Adrian Superlano, they call me Sore. I'm from Venezuela, from Barquisimeto, but I'm also from Barinas. Well, I'm from everywhere, when you're migrating you are from everywhere, it's not like you are from a particular place, you are a little of everything."
"I got this tattoo to not forget that love hurts."
I would ask if it's possible to work, if they needed help, and they would say yes or no, that simple. To work in schools or clinics, that's more complicated, they ask for papers or just say no because you are Venezuelan, that they are looking for Peruvians."
"He got sick in my store, he had walked so much and then got sick in Peru. I gave him medicine, food, I treated him like a son. It's so unfair, what they are going through is such a painful truth."
After Lima, Trujillo has the highest number of Venezuelans migrants, around 15,000.
Oliver Castillo, a Venezuelan youtuber, has helped many migrants navigate uncertainty while settling in Trujillo; he recommends from where to buy an inflatable mattress to uncovering scam systems that target migrants.
"We have learned to cook "aji de gallina," "papa a la huancaina," so many delicious Peruvian dishes. It's very probable that an interesting culinary mixture will come from all of this. In some ways society will evolve as Peruvians and Venezuelans mix and another generation is born."
"It's all about getting used to the new reality"
Today, more than 700,000 Venezuelans build a new life in the capital of Peru.
Money, videoclip shot in Lima by the Zambrano brothers for the artist Amazing.
María arrived in Lima one years and a half ago. At the beginning she stayed at a shelter in San Martín de Porres. Now she lives with her family in Chorrillos, very close to the beach where she spends her Sundays.
Since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, thousands of Venezuelan families have undertaken the return to their country. The vast majority have lost their jobs, others are being evicted, and since Venezuelans are not included the Peruvian government's relief efforts, their situation in Peru is more than critical. It's our hope that the stories narrated in Ruta de Fuga serve as examples of strength and resilience, in the midst of this global pandemic.