New Year’s Eve in Venezuela used to be celebrated with various rituals including grapes and lentils, yellow underwear, a handful of money, and a suitcase taken around the block after midnight to invite opportunities for travel.
But Venezuelans no longer celebrate the end of the year with suitcases. For those who remain in the country, they are now a symbol of sadness and family separation.
For those driven from Venezuela by its political, social and economic crisis, they are a painful reality. Since 2016, over four million Venezuelans have left their country to escape violence and insecurity, as well as a lack of food, medicines and essential services. Of these, some 1.6 million men, women and children have crossed the border into Colombia, a country that does not have the resources to cope with the massive influx of migrants seeking safety and stability. Every day, hundreds of Venezuelans cross the Arauca River to Colombia in search of safety, food and healthcare. This migration represents the second largest population movement in the world after Syria.
Yet the dire situation of Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers is largely being ignored by the international community and the humanitarian response remains severely limited, particularly in rural areas affected by armed conflict and criminal dynamics.
Most Venezuelans leave a distressing situation in their home country, but they do not reach a safe place on the other side of the border.
Many migrants sleep on the streets on arrival, then settle in slums or crowded houses. Poor living conditions and lack of access to water and sanitation have a direct impact on their health.
They risk being recruited by armed groups or for the cultivation of illicit crops or forced into prostitution. They suffer discrimination and sexual violence.