Coronavirus Is Forcing Venezuelan Migrants to Return to Their Devastated Country

Many are having to walk hundreds of miles to get to the border -- back to their homeland, and its gutted healthcare system.

Life was better in Colombia for some Venezuelan migrants who'd fled their homeland’s devastated economy in recent years and found work as day laborers. But then the pandemic hit and the work dried up when Colombia went on lockdown in late March, leaving some of the migrants homeless, or even desperate enough to return to Venezuela.

Antonio Cruz, who’s been working in garbage removal in Bogota, wasn’t able to pay rent any longer. “I wasn't making enough, so I was evicted,” Cruz told VICE News from his place under a bridge, where he’s now living with other migrants who had nowhere else to go.

The conditions are so dire that some Venezuelans are doing what would have been unthinkable three months ago: going back to their homeland-- and its gutted healthcare system, which had already collapsed well before the pandemic.

According to Colombian officials, at least 12,000 Venezuelans have returned to their country since the lockdown began. Because they can’t even afford a bus ticket, many are having to walk hundreds of miles to get to the border.

“The hardest part is seeing my kids walk, when they pretend to be strong…. or seeing their faces when their eyes are red because they've been in the sun for too long,” said Sinaí Rojas, who’d been walking with her family for four days when we met her. She’s hopeful for some opportunity along the way. “If someone opens a door and gives us an option, you’ll see that no one else will leave. Because we know the situation in Venezuela is bad and it’s getting worse.”