Venezuelan migrants in Necoclí put their lives in the hands of Biden

In a limbo and prisoners of disinformation. The thousands of Venezuelan migrants who are in the Colombian port of Necoclí or in the foothills of the Darién jungle remain attentive to the videos of deportations between the United States and Mexico. Also to those who, through Tik Tok and other networks, try to explain the immigration measures of the Joe Biden government. The decision of whether or not to continue their dangerous journey is at stake.

False news has also reached the camps where they make the crucial decision. On Saturday, Francisco Palmieri, ambassador in charge of the United States in Colombia, traveled to the port, reiterated that the border between Mexico and that country is closed and denied an alleged reopening within 90 days.

Venezuelan migrants arrive at Canaan Membrillo village, the first border control of the Darien Province in Panama, on October 13, 2022. - The clandestine journey through the Darien Gap usually lasts five or six days at the mercy of all kinds of bad weather: snakes, swamps and drug traffickers who use these routes to take cocaine to Central America. (Photo by Luis ACOSTA / AFP) / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY JUAN JOSE RODRIGUEZ

“Do not risk your lives and those of your families. Venezuelans who try to enter illegally will be expelled to Mexico,” the ambassador warned. “There is a new program by the United States, where if you stay where you are and don’t cross a border, you can apply online for a humanitarian visa,” he insisted on his visit. The program is similar to the one used with those displaced by the Ukraine war, which requires that migrants have a sponsor in the United States capable of providing them with “financial support” as well as arriving by plane. And, in this case, that they have not entered irregularly through Mexico or Panama, that is, they have entered. 

It is about 24,000 quotas that clearly will not be enough for the magnitude of Venezuelan migration. Every day, according to the latest figures from the Washington Office for Latin American Affairs (Wola), 1,280 Venezuelan migrants cross this dangerous route where at least 30 migrants have died or disappeared. For many, Biden’s announcement caught them on the road and when they finally arrived in Panama they learned that the border was closed and they had lost the effort. So far this year, 102,000 people have crossed that trail, 68% Venezuelans.

It is not yet clear if the new measure will discourage migrants. According to the Mayor of Necoclí, on Friday (one day after the announcement) there were 6,000 migrants ready to go to Darien. However, sources from the municipality also say – although they do not quantify it – that there are migrants who have returned en masse. “When the restrictions were announced in the United States, many people returned, but others are waiting on the beaches to see what happens,” says a driver from Necoclí.

Some migrants want to return

In one of the Panamanian camps there is discouragement among those who made it through the jungle alive. “Not anymore (I want to go to the US). It is no longer a secret that everything is closed. For my part, I would like to return,” Venezuelan Carlos Figueroa, 28, told the EFE news agency.

The Medellín Transport terminal, from where migrants were leaving en masse, also serves as a thermometer. There, some Venezuelans desisted from undertaking the trip. For them, however, it implies a painful decision after selling everything they had and quitting their jobs to cross the trail in search of the American dream. “It was a bucket of cold water,” a man who was going to migrate with his three children told Alianza Noticias. “The first decision was to try it and let them see what they did with us in Mexico, but later we thought about it with a cool head,” he explained.

From Tik Tok, which has become the network for Venezuelan migration through the Darién, videos of deportations and warnings now abound. “Do not get on the boats to enter the Darien jungle or risk your life for nothing, my brothers. If they go through the jungle they will write them down and that data reaches the United States,” says a tik toker who calls himself El emigrante. And he continues: “With our hands on our chests, I know we are stubborn and say: ‘we are Venezuelans and we can do it’, but no, not this time. I know it hurts, but life is more important and why risk it if there is no way”, he tells them.

In the Darién jungle, according to the IOM, 30 people have died this year, nine of them children, without counting the numbers of shipwrecks such as the one that occurred on Friday, October 13. A Navy ship chased a boat with irregular migrants in Sapzurró (Chocó), the maritime border with Panama. The boat did not stop, collided with a Coastal Patrol boat of the SENAN of Panama and was shipwrecked. They rescued 23 adults and two minors, but they are still looking for six migrants.

The nationalities of those rescued, three Cuban citizens, three Dominicans, seven Bangladeshis, one Iranian, five Nepalese and six Indians, confirm that not only Venezuelans continue to try to cross this route. “Now the wave of Ecuadorians and Peruvians has come. There are also Chinese”, comments a resident of Necoclí.

The Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Colombia, Laura Gil, who traveled to Necoclí on Saturday, said that the humanitarian situation in that port “requires a regional approach that dignifies migrants.” EL PAÍS learned that Panama has been pressuring Colombia to prevent the departure of migrants through El Darién, but the government of Gustavo Petro says that it will not do so. “Colombia will not build walls, neither visible nor invisible, and with Migration Colombia we will address the situation with a humanitarian approach. We are facing a challenge for the Americas and not only for Colombia,” Gil stressed on Twitter.

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