As hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans in Colombia try to build new lives, a fellow Venezuelan speaks to some of them about the difficulties of starting over.
‘I have to leave Venezuela for good,” my cousin said to me. I asked him why. “My business partner and I were extorted. A local gang threatened to kill us if we didn’t pay them. I can’t live like this anymore.” My cousin ran a graphic design business in Maracay, near Caracas. That week a man from El Tren de Aragua – a local gang known for extortion, robbery and kidnappings – demanded money for “protection.” The man knew where he lived, where he and his wife worked, what car he drove, and about his baby son. After the food shortages and armed robberies, this was the final straw.
So I helped my cousin and his family start a new life in Bogotá.
Sadly, their story is very common. Decades ago, thousands of Colombians emigrated to Venezuela to escape economic insecurity and violence, now Venezuelans are searching for safety and opportunity in Colombia. An El Tiempo report last year estimated that 2,800,000 Venezuelans had arrived in the country since 2003.
Once in Bogotá, Venezuelans must find work and a home to rent – which is very difficult without a work visa or citizenship.
But there are also some local non-profit organisations who help new arrivals. One group called La Familia de Venezolanos en Bogotá hosts picnics, networking events and cultural trips to give Venezuelans in Colombia opportunities to build relationships, business partnerships and to learn the history and culture of their new city. Eduardo Navarro, founder of the group, told me how their events help Venezuelans integrate: “All of the experiences we provide allows us to understand, help and support all who contact us.”