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A Glimpse of What Life is Like for Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees in Ecuador

Photo: Leonardo Salas/CARE

Photo: Leonardo Salas/CARE

5.5 million people have fled Venezuela since 2015

Yannete, 25, was several months pregnant when she arrived in Ecuador on foot after a gruelling 10-day journey from Venezuela. She made the difficult decision to leave her home country because of the violence — she was shot several times in her neighborhood in los Llanos Venezolanos.

Juan, 31, arrived in Ecuador, also on foot, and alone with only a small backpack. He was forced to leave his home because the medicine he needed to treat a terminal illness was impossible to find in Venezuela due to drug shortages.

Desiré, 18, arrived in Ecuador with her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Noa and spent four days living on the streets until they were able to find temporary shelter.

These are just three stories among thousands from Venezuelan migrants and refugees seeking a better life in Ecuador. According to the U.N., more than 500,000 Venezuelans are now living in Ecuador, half of whom need urgent access to housing.

Credit: Leonardo Salas/CARE

“I would give my life for my children. I don’t want to see them suffering in the street,” Yannete says.

Venezuelans face challenges around employment, housing, legal status, and xenophobia. While national policies in Ecuador allow migrants to live in the country legally, offer employment and economic opportunities, and work to combat xenophobia and stigma, Venezuelan refugees and migrants still struggle to find jobs. They’re often not able to meet basic day-to-day needs like food and shelter. A recent study by CARE Ecuador showed the complications that migrants experience daily in accessing shelter and housing across seven regions of Ecuador.

“I would give my life for my children. I don’t want to see them suffering in the street.”

Sixty-two percent of those surveyed reported that they had no form of work. Twenty-three percent said they resorted to begging on the streets and occasional street vending, while 15% said they carry out informal and occasional jobs such as recycling, bricklaying and carpentry.

“People don’t understand what we have had to go through in Venezuela,” she says. “But those who do, we have them to thank because they helped us a lot with fundamental things like rent.”

Credit: CARE

Desiré (pictured) arrived in Ecuador with no place to stay and spent days sleeping outside with her one-year-old daughter.

“We slept in the squares. We asked for food in the street but I was very very ashamed. But we had to do it, even if it was to give my daughter just a bite,” she says.

After four days she found housing at a shelter. Temporary shelters for Venezuelan migrants typically house anywhere between 18–150 people. For mothers like Desiré, these shelters often lack private space for feeding and caring for children. Cramped conditions and a lack of safe spaces, especially for women and girls, can increase risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).


5.5 million people have fled Venezuela since 2015

In Huaquillas, one of the cities CARE surveyed near the Peruvian border, shelters are operating with reduced capacity during the pandemic. But there is still regular overcrowding due to the high demand for services for the most vulnerable, including children and adolescents, survivors of SGBV, and LGBTIQ+ people. Extra spaces have to be made available to accommodate sudden increases in arrivals, or for people trapped by border closures with Peru and unable to continue their journeys.

“My dream is to move on, find myself a job, and get my baby ahead,” Desiré says.

Credit: Luis Herrera/CARE

“I’m gay and terminally ill. That is why I’m embarking on this journey in search of medicine and a better quality of life,” says Juan.

After nearly two months living on the street, Juan found an apartment with support from CARE. He needs to find work soon to continue paying rent, but job opportunities are slim. LGBTQIA+ migrants and refugees face increased risk and additional challenges when it comes to meeting their basic needs, including health care access and decent housing.

“Home is tranquillity, union, well-being.”

CARE Ecuador provides humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants, as well as other vulnerable groups most affected by the pandemic. CARE is currently working with grassroots organizations to provide psychosocial and legal counselling, cash transfers, food, hygiene kits, PPE, and more. CARE also provides seed capital and training on setting up a small business.

“Home is tranquillity, union, well-being. I dream of having a normal life here in Ecuador. I want to stay here,” says Juan.

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