By Neil Pardo

The economic problems in Venezuela affect those in the country, but also those who want to leave. Imagine how difficult it is to leave your country, your friends and your family. Now imagine how difficult this would be with little or no money.

Wage increases raise inflation

According to Havana Times’s Carlyle MacDuffy, Venezuela’s President Maduro announced a wage increase in early 2020. Yet, “the new salary will barely equal US $4.60” per month . And what you can buy in Venezuela for that amount of money is even more sobering: two cartons of milk, a package of pasta and a dozen eggs.

Nowadays, private companies are starting to pay in dollars, but the minimum monthly wage for public companies—the majority of the country’s employers—is still less than $10 a. While people have no future in Venezuela under such conditions, leaving requires money for transportation, food and a place to spend the night during the journey. The minimum wage makes this journey impossible for Venezuelan refugees.

Leaving means a chance at a better life

The main reason Venezuelans leave the country is to find higher salaries and a better quality of life. Neighboring countries have stronger economies, and the Venezuelan economic crisis has been going on for more than 15 years without the government taking any measures to improve the situation.

“The minimum wage in some other Latin American countries is more than 200 times higher than in Venezuela, as we can see with Chile (441$), Colombia (261$), Peru (257$)” says Pasquali. Venezuelans want to emigrate to these Latin American countries to live more comfortably or just to pay for their basic needs. In these countries refugees can rent an apartment and pay for education to improve their lives.

Inflation runs rampant

Venezuela has the highest inflation rate in the world: 6,500% annually since 2020. The local currency (bolivar) has been losing value for the last ten years. People do not want this. They want a balanced currency that can maintain its real value and is not constantly changing, a currency like the dollar and the Euro. Venezuelans want to be able to save money for when they are old and retire, to travel and to have financial freedom.

In Venezuela, they cannot save because the minimum wage is very low and the inflation very high. But there is a possible solution in order to overcome this problem. Some economies in Latin America, such as Panama and Ecuador, have improved by using the dollar as their currency. “One of the expected benefits of full dollarization in the short run is the decline of inflation rates and inflation expectations” Quispe writes. Dollarization gives stability and prices that are less likely to change over time, maintaining their real value for a longer time. The dollar is a safe option. The Venezuelan government should start using the dollar to improve its economy.

The trip abroad is a long and grueling journey

Every day, thousands of Venezuelans cross the border and begin their journey through Latin American countries toward a better future. During their trip, they face many difficulties. “Colombia hosts the greatest number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela, a total of 1.8 million. Other hosting nations include Peru (861,000), Chile (455,500), Ecuador (366,600) and Brazil (235,500).” The refugees must walk several kilometers in order to reach their destination. Many carry their children and have no food or drink. They may get dizzy and weak from walking so long.

“Some head to nearby towns in search of work, others travel to Colombia’s large cities like Bogota (walking 563 km or 350 miles) and Medellin (595 km or 370 miles)” reported by Al Jazeera’s Megan Janetsky. And many other refugees walk even farther, since they go to more distant countries than Colombia, the nearest. Refugees cannot afford a place to spend the night, since the average prices of hotels near the border are around 20$ a night. If their minimum wage is 4$, “they would have to work five months just to pay one night at a hotel.

Exploitation and dangerous routes

Refugees are vulnerable to significant risks as well, including extortion, exploitation, physical and sexual violence, and lack of access to support systems at checkpoints. Corrupt police may extort money from Venezuelan refugees before allowing them to continue their journey. Refugees also suffer from cold at night and extreme heat during the day. They can suffer from abuses and extortion.

The route is also dangerous because refugees walk along highways, risking accidents. There are heavy trucks with merchandise that are heavy and take this road in order to transport good trough south America. These cars go at high speed and could easily lose control and run over refugees who are walking along the crowded shoulders of the road. Yet, walking along the highways seems easier and less dangerous than through a wild landscape, where they may encounter such obstacles as high rivers and brush. 

Refugees face racism upon arrival

Even if Venezuelans survive these risks and reach their destination, they still encounter difficulties in the countries where they arrive. There is job inequality, and they are treated badly. “When I arrived in Trujillo [a coastal city in the north of Peru], I went to a mall with some Venezuelan friends. The first thing I heard there was, ‘ you, Veneco’ [a derogatory word for Venezuelans and Colombians in Peru]” Jan Borman recalls.

People in other countries feel racism towards Venezuelans. Such negative perceptions of Venezuelan refugees make it harder to find a job. Other Latin Americans cannot handle the idea that Venezuelans may take their job and therefore fear refugees, making it harder for refugees to get a job and earn money.

Money woes

It is difficult for the refugees to get a job, as these Latin American countries gives priority to their citizens. Further, these countries are not as prepared as first-world countries to receive refugees. According to University News,“Of the three million who have fled Venezuela, many of them are students and early career professionals” . They have not completed their studies because they were not able to pay for their degree and for the goods needed to study, even simple supplies such as notebooks and pencils.

The only choice refugees to earn money is to work in informal jobs. Some sell food, such as arepas (the national dish of Venezuela) and goods on the streets. Those refugees have a lot of potential but cannot show it to the world because of the circumstances that they are facing.

Life of the refugee may remain difficult

Refugees need money and support in order to survive. Leaving poor countries such as Venezuela makes refugees’ lives difficult, since it is hard for them to find stable jobs. Most of the countries and companies do not accept Venezuelan degrees. It is very difficult for a Venezuelan to save, since the inflation lowers the value of their money. It is very difficult to live in Venezuela, but it is also difficult to be a Venezuelan refugee.

Neil Pardo is a SLU Madrid undergraduate student.

To quote this article, please use the following reference: N. Pardo (2021), “Times are hard for Venezuelan Refugees.”

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