(Caracas) Tears of joy, cries, applause… One hundred and fifteen Venezuelan immigrants, some of whom had been stranded for two weeks at the border between Chile and Peru, arrived in Caracas on Sunday in a plane chartered by the authorities.
These migrants had decided to leave Chile due to tighter controls, but also more difficult economic conditions.
“I will never leave the country again. Abroad, we are practically treated like dogs. We were blocked for 14 days, [the UN defense agencies] of “Human Rights” arrived on the 10th day. We had nothing, no toilets… And the Peruvian police gave us no information,” says Gerardo Valladares, 22.
For more than two weeks, hundreds of migrants, mainly Venezuelans, but also Haitians, Colombians or Ecuadorians, have been stranded at Chile’s northern border. Peru prevents them from passing, citing the lack of documents.
Peru has declared a 60-day state of emergency at its borders and ordered the deployment of military personnel to strengthen surveillance and combat insecurity linked to foreigners, according to Peruvian President Dina Boluarte.
“The truth is that there is nothing human in what was happening…but thank God we are here,” says Jani Medina, 19, baby in arms .
“This first flight of Venezuelans returning to their country of origin is a diplomatic triumph and a triumph of dialogue and of those of us who seek solutions,” Chilean President Gabriel Boric said.
The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry welcomed the repatriation under the “Return to the Homeland” plan, launched by the authorities in 2018 and which saw the return of 30,000 Venezuelans.
Some 7.2 of the 30 million Venezuelans have left the country due to the severe political and economic crisis which has seen the GDP shrink by around 80% between 2013 and 2022.
The flight, which departed from the city of Arica, some 2,000 km north of Santiago, left Chile around 5:40 a.m. local time (5:40 a.m. Eastern Time) and landed at 1 p.m. in Venezuela.
The migrants were met at the airport by officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They received meal trays and drinks.
Those who had loved ones waiting for them quickly left the scene while the others were taken by buses from the airport to the Bandera bus station in Caracas, from where they could take vehicles to reach their cities or towns.
“I’m very happy to be back,” says Juri Gil, stylist, 38, married, one child. She had sold a lot of things to finance her emigration, but returned only 5 months later.
“We lost a lot of money [in this adventure]. Chile is not doing well economically. If it is to be in a country that is in the same situation as Venezuela or worse, the best thing to do is to go home. At least there’s family,” she says, referring to the difficulties at the Chilean-Peruvian border.
“We improvised tents. We survived it for 11 days. On the floor, in the mosquitoes, in the cold, in the heat, it was not easy. Between the garbage cans,” says Juri, who says the Chileans have “helped them a lot” providing water and food.
Michell Ramirez also says she is “relieved” to be back. “There are three of us, me and the two children. Or rather five with animals”: a dog and a cat, “Tom and Kittty”. Michell has spent more than 10 years abroad and one of her 7-year-old children has never known her country. “Now I want my people back.”