Thousands looking for a better life are stranded at the border. They are unwanted by the country to which they are traveling, and unable to live in the country from which they are leaving. While this may sound like the US border with Mexico, such is the state of the Ecuadorian border with Columbia. To the north, Venezuela is struggling politically and economically under strongman Nicolás Maduro, who won re-election in May, extending his term as president another six years.
The Venezuelan economy has seen five consecutive years of recession, and this recent controversial election has not made life easier for its citizens. The US and EU joined other South American leaders in condemning the results as unfair. Internationally, the US responded with sanctions. Domestically, Maduro has faced relentless protests, with a strong base in youth and student communities, and an apparent assassination attempt from a drone.
His response has been swift and strong, with scores of political dissenters in jail. This, along with chronic inflation and shortages in food and medicine, has been the tipping point for many.
The result is the exodus of more than one million Venezuelans from their country in the last fifteen months. Most are travelling south to family in Peru or Chile, and have been walking, hiking, and hitching rides as they are able across Columbia and Ecuador. However, Ecuador seeks to slow down the influx of Venezuelans by requiring a passport for entry into Ecuador. Because so many were only using an ID card, this new rule has left thousands stranded on the Columbian side of the border.
Columbia is upset with the new rule, and does not believe it is the best solution to the current immigration challenges. “Demanding a passport is not going to stop migration because this population is not leaving the country for pleasure but out of necessity,” said Christian Kruger Sarmiento, director of the Migration Colombia agency.
Aside from failure to deter Venezuelans from leaving, he believes the new measures will also not protect Ecuador from receiving large numbers of Venezuelans. “The first thing that will happen… is that it will see an increase in undocumented migration. That brings a lot of problems with it.”
While it remains to be seen how the new policies will affect Ecuador, Columbia is now watching about 4,000 Venezuelans reach the border with Ecuador every day, according to official estimates. With no legal path forward to their families, and no feasible options in Venezuela, these families must now make decisions from a frustratingly sparse set of selections. These decisions will dictate the future of their lives, and could have dramatic consequences for the populations and governments that will welcome the weary travellers.
Drew Fabricius is a Lead Contributor for theDailyLead.