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Venezuelans facing tumult at home flood into Peru

Millions of Venezuelans have fled the country's economic and political crises in recent years, with an estimated 500,000 migrating to Peru in 2018 alone. Many have entered the country on work permits allowing them to stay for up to one year. But with the unending flow of Venezuelans, Peru stopped accepting work permit applications at the end of last year. Special Correspondent Kira Kay reports.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    As we mentioned earlier in the program, Secretary of State Pompeo is visiting South America this weekend, to discuss the crisis unfolding as millions stream out of Venezuela to countries throughout the region. Of those countries, Peru -so far – has been among the most welcoming.

    NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Kira Kay reports from Lima, Peru in partnership with New York University's Global Beat Program.

  • Kira Kay:

    It's a Sunday afternoon match between the Brewers and the Yankees. But this field is a world away from Milwaukee or the Bronx. All of the players here today fled their homes in Venezuela, and have made their way to Peru. And once a week, eighteen such teams gather on the waterfront of the capital city Lima for a slice of home.

  • Freddy de Freitas:

    We call these Sundays 'Venezuelan Sundays'. Because we come here and we're in the Venezuelan environment. It's pure Venezuelan, while we play this sport that we're passionate about.

  • Kira Kay:

    Freddy de Freitas fled Venezuela two years ago after the country's economic crisis and hyperinflation made it hard to get food and medicine. Plus he and his family faced added pressure, his wife was pregnant.

  • Freddy de Freitas:

    We were having trouble getting her check ups. So I spent five days on a bus crossing the borders of Colombia and Ecuador to get here. Once I got here I earned enough money to buy her a plane ticket and bring her from Caracas to join me here in Lima.

  • Kira Kay:

    De Freitas and his teammates are among an estimated one million Venezuelans to flee to Peru, the great majority in the last two years. Most first go to Colombia, then down to Ecuador, and finally cross the border into Peru.

  • Kira Kay:

    These men are lucky because they arrived before the end of 2018 and were able to qualify for an entry document created specifically for Venezuelans known as a temporary permit of residence, or "PTP.". This visa allowed those who made it in time to stay and work in the country for a year, and can be renewed when the year is up. The PTP has been a lifeline because it allows them to work.

  • Players:

    Machinist, Electrician, Tailor, Taxi Driver, Motorbike Salesman

  • Kira Kay:

    Today, the Venezuelan migration crisis is the second largest in the world, with nearly 3 and a half million people having fled the country. But there are no refugee camps in Peru, just a series of small temporary shelters. Most migrants have blended into Lima's poorer neighborhoods. On the streets, there are signs if you know where to look. Venezuelan flags have popped up outside barber shops, restaurants, and other businesses. Venezuelans staff stalls in Lima's marketplaces and sell their goods up and down the crowded isles.

  • Feline Freier:

    In practical terms we're still talking about 1 million Venezuelans in a country that only has 30 million inhabitants so that's a huge number.

  • Kira Kay:

    Professor Feline Freier researches Venezuelan migration.

  • Feline Freier:

    And Peru is nevertheless implementing a policy of open doors in practice. So no one is being turned away at the border.

  • Kira Kay:

    In 2018 alone, Peru received half a million Venezuelans. Peru's Department of Migration has been processing a constant inflow of arrivals, says its Director Roxana del Aguila.

  • Roxana del Aguila:

    Since May, we have worked 24 hours a day here in this center. And we could attend to more or less 5,000 Venezuelans that arrived each 24 hours, every day.

  • Kira Kay:

    Because of the lack of food and medicine in Venezuela, many arrive in Peru malnourished and in need of medical care. So they get a health check, and if necessary, vaccines.

  • Roxana del Aguila:

    For us it has been a challenge. But we have been able to receive children in great quantity. Children with malnutrition. Women that are seen with exhaustion, fatigue, a very difficult situation. Of course there is a big impact on society. However, we are convinced that the arrival of Venezuelan citizens here can also contribute to the development of our country.

  • Kira Kay:

    The migration office has been tasked with issuing the coveted PTP work permits. Venezuelans like Merelith Holmquist and her husband Carlos Garcia have been able to renew their PTP and work in Peru for 2 years. They came today with her mother and their two year old daughter, to investigate options for staying even longer.

  • Merilith Holmquist:

    Right now we're waiting for a bit more certainty in our lives before we start to make decisions about the future, if we are going to stay here or have to go somewhere else.

  • Kira Kay:

    Holmquist, who has a PhD in chemistry, was fortunate to land a teaching job. But for her husband Carlos it's been harder, he had a profitable business selling electronics, but now sells empanadas that he makes at home.

  • Carlos Garcia:

    I have never cooked or made anything in my life before now, and every day takes a lot. Making the dough so early, going out to sell, coming back, making more.

  • Kira Kay:

    His work helps support their family in Peru as well as those back in Venezuela. Still, it's a major lifestyle change.

  • Carlos Garcia:

    Before there was more money and you could buy a car or a computer or clothes. But now, we do not have a good life, and we'd like to be more secure economically.

  • Kira Kay:

    Stories like Garcia's are familiar to Oscar Perez, who runs a charity that is for Venezuelans by Venezuelans. He has found that many Venezuelans in Peru are highly skilled, and he is working with the government to try to match them with better jobs.

  • Oscar Perez:

    For every ten Venezuelans that arrive in Peru, six or seven are university-trained professionals, that in this moment are working as waiters or security guards or drivers or are selling candy in the streets. The only thing we want is not gifts, not handouts, what we want is opportunity. Opportunity to demonstrate that we can move forward and we can contribute a great deal.

  • Kira Kay:

    But that might all be about to change. With the flow of Venezuelans unending, and worries about pressure on state services, Peru has stopped accepting the PTP applications that have allowed so many to stay and work in the country. Those who applied before the deadline are being processed now, and will be the last to receive the permits. New arrivals get short term tourist visas, so if they want to stay more than a few months and work, they must formally apply for asylum as refugees. Peru has a relatively generous definition of who qualifies for refugee status. It includes people whose security has been threatened by, quote, "circumstances that have disturbed public order." But the process is moving slowly, according to Freier.

  • Feline Freier:

    The Venezuelan asylum claims don't have priority right now. So they're basically not being decided. Why is that? If Peru decided the 200,000 or potentially up to 1 million, potential, asylum claims, and accepted these people as refugees, they would immediately have access to full healthcare. And this is something Peru can simply not afford in practical terms.

  • Kira Kay:

    With PTPs phasing out, and asylum applications in limbo, the crisis might start to look more and more like this, a former factory turned shelter in the rough outskirts of Lima. Here single men sleep on the concrete floor while women, children and couples share a limited number of overcrowded bunk beds. All 180 residents share a single toilet and shower. 25 year old Mari Fernandez is a new arrival who can't apply for a PTP. She left her 4 children in Venezuela because the weeks-long journey would be just too hard.

  • Mari Fernandez:

    I lived through so many things walking here. There were sores on my feet, I couldn't stay in one place for more than one night and I had no water and only ate bread. I never, ever wanted my children to go through that. But now I want to do everything possible to bring them.

  • Kira Kay:

    Fernandez hopes to find a way to earn money in order to buy bus tickets from Caracas for her children to join her in Peru. Because she is unable to work legally, she survives by helping out around the shelter in exchange for food and accommodation. She is now waiting to see if Peru will accept her as a refugee. Meanwhile, Freddy de Freitas, the holder of a coveted work permit, says he will now apply for residency, which the law allows because his daughter was born in Peru. Still, he yearns to return home.

  • Freddy de Freitas:

    For now, I'm relaxed because my daughter isn't missing anything she needs. But happy? No. Because my mother is still in Venezuela, my father is still in Venezuela, my grandmother, my aunts, my sisters. I want to be back in my own country, making my future in my own country.

    This project was produced by New York University's GlobalBeat Program. Production assistance was provided by James Fox, Kathleen Taylor, Opheli Garcia Lawler, Jacquelyn Kovarik, Laura Zephirin, Alex Tabet, Leo Schwartz, Andrea Zarate and Jason Maloney.

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