QUITO – About a hundred Venezuelans, including young children, the elderly and pregnant women, have spent several nights out in the open next to their country’s consulate in the Ecuadorian capital awaiting repatriation flights that never arrive.
The alarm was raised by local organizations, including the Venezuelan Civil Association of Ecuador, whose president Daniel Regalado has asked municipal authorities to take measures to shelter migrants who seek to return to their homeland due to the lack of opportunities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They have been left to their fate. There are more than 40 families who have come on foot from Peru, (or from the Ecuadorian cities of) Guayaquil or Manta, who were evicted and have joined groups in Quito,” Regalado, whose association has provided basic aids to those stranded, told EFE.
The front of a multi-floor office building that houses the Venezuelan consulate in northern Quito is now an improvised camp for citizens of the Caribbean coast country, who crowded around the main entrance, eating a quick lunch donated by volunteers and individuals, and praying together.
With her sunburned face partially covered by a thin red mask, Neida Castillo, 37, from Merida in northwest Venezuela, told EFE about the ups and downs she has had to face since she left Lima 16 days ago with her husband and two cousins. She arrived a week ago in Ecuador, and since Monday, the group has set up camp at the consulate in Quito, awaiting the arrival of a new repatriation flight under the “Return to the Fatherland” scheme, officially supported by the Nicolas Maduro regime.
“The exit from Peru was by a trail because we were not allowed to leave – some Peruvian gentlemen helped us. You have to cross the desert on foot, sometimes they give you a ride,” said Castillo, who was with a young girl who was playing surrounded by gear on the street.
In her case, the group did not have to pay to cross illegally, but she said smugglers are charging Venezuelans $15 to take them from Peru to Ecuador.
Although the consulate in Quito last week set up a platform for those interested in returning to Venezuela to register for a seat on repatriation flights, the stranded people complain that “it never opens.”
The consular authorities have given them a form – although some people have been signed up since October – and requested priority for those who are more vulnerable.
Diego Jimenez, 30, from Apure state, has been in the Ecuadorian capital for four days. He arrived from Lima after more than two weeks cycling along with his cousin.
“You could say that 100% of the people here have been fired from their jobs at first and then evicted because they couldn’t pay their rent,” he said.
Last Thursday, a flight left Quito for Barquisimeto, a northwestern city of Venezuela, with 90 migrants heading back home, followed by a similar flight last weekend with 88 Venezuelans who had been left stranded on Ecuador’s border with Colombia, according to the consulate.
Those flights have had a knock-on effect, but Venezuelans waiting at the diplomatic legation in Quito don’t know when others will depart and claim that consul Pedro Sassone is not giving them any answers.
“We have asked NGOs and also the consul himself to provide us with shelter, but we have information that they are totally overloaded by the pandemic,” Jimenez said.
EFE tried unsuccessfully to contact the consul on Wednesday for comment.
Although most are aware that many have lost their lives crossing the borders closed due to the pandemic, the situation of uncertainty has led a group of about 20 Venezuelans to leave towards the Colombian border on Wednesday, “seeking irregular crossing,” Jimenez concluded.