As the plight of Venezuelans worsens, and neighboring countries crack down on those trying to flee, Catholic leaders in the region are calling for solidarity and aid.
“The massive emigration of millions of Venezuelans is a desperate cry of protest of an oppressed, enslaved people, doomed to die,” Archbishop Emeritus Ubaldo Santana of Maracaibo, Venezuela, said on Twitter August 26.
He said the people are desperately seeking a way to “survive, not lose their dignity and claim before the nations their fundamental rights which have been violated.”
The prelate thanked the border dioceses that have offered shelter and supplies to those pouring into their countries.
“The work being done by the dioceses of Cúcuta, Riohacha in Colombia and Boa Vista in Brazil through Caritas and other humanitarian organizations to care for the Venezuelan emigrants is extraordinary. Eternally grateful,” the archbishop wrote.
According to Caritas International, about four million people have left Venezuela due to the grave economic crisis marked by a major shortage of food and medicine under the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro, the president of the country since 2013.
Maduro, the handpicked successor of Hugo Chavez, has continued Venezuela’s socialist economic policies without the added boost of high oil prices that benefitted his predecessor. Maduro was re-elected May 20 in elections that have been internationally questioned.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies stated that the average Venezuelan lost about 24 pounds in 2017, in a population where almost 90 percent live below the poverty line. A lack of affordable medicine has caused a resurgence of diphtheria and an increase in measles and malaria, diseases that had almost been eradicated in Venezuela.
In recent days, the migration of Venezuelans to Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina has increased. Many have fled on foot to escape the humanitarian crisis hitting the country.
Earlier this month, the governments of Ecuador and Peru began requiring immigrants to present their passport in order to enter. Previously, other forms of identification, including a national ID card, had been allowed.
The new requirements have left many migrants stranded on the border between Ecuador and Colombia. Passports for Venezuelans can cost upwards of $2,000, at a time when many people in the country are struggling to buy food and other necessities.
The Ecuador regulation was halted by a court last week, while authorities have been given 45 days to implement a comprehensive plan to regulate the flow of migrants.
The Diocese of Cúcuta, Colombia stated that it continues “making efforts to aid those thousands of Venezuelan migrants who are leaving their country to escape” and “seek to come to Colombian cities or also go to other nations.”
The Archdiocese of Piura and Tumbes in northern Peru reported that it is also continuing to aid the hundreds of Venezuelans who are crossing the border from Ecuador every day.
Local Archbishop José Antonio Eguren asked the faithful to welcome “our Venezuelan brothers” with “concrete gestures of fraternity” and “a merciful heart and expression.”
Caritas Piura, in coordination with public and private institutions, has organized a series of informational workshops to “protect the rights of our migrant brothers.”
The workshops “dealt with issues related to jobs, access to healthcare, education, migratory status, and others,” the archdiocese said.
Parishes in Puira and Tumbes have also organized efforts to provide “spiritual care, lodging, food and healthcare” to Venezuelan migrants.
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.