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US migrant policy ‘bucket of cold water’ for some Venezuelans

NECOCLI, Colombia — Venezuelan Gilbert Fernández still plans to cross the perilous jungle from Darién to Panama and head overland to the United States, despite a US announcement that it will only grant conditional humanitarian permits to 24,000 Venezuelan migrants arriving by plane.

“The news hit us like a bucket of cold water,” Fernandez said Thursday, a day after the announcement, which also said Venezuelans arriving overland at the Mexico-U.S. border would be sent back to Mexico.

Fernández spoke to The Associated Press on a beach in Necoclí, a coastal town in Colombia, where about 9,000 people, mostly Venezuelans, waited to board a boat to take them to the entrance of the Darién Gap that connects the South American country with Panama. From there, migrants travel overland through Central America via Mexico to the US

Some on the Colombian beach said they would look for other routes to the United States or give up the trip after hearing the news. Critics noted that the number of humanitarian visas was only a fraction of the number of Venezuelans willing to enter the United States.

But for Fernandez it was too late to return. He said he sold his car and his land in Venezuela to fund the trip with his 18-year-old son and his friends, and that he has no money left for a plane ticket to the US.

“Those of us who have already started, how are we going to do that?” he wondered. “We are already working on that.”

The US and Mexico said on Wednesday that the Biden administration agreed to accept up to 24,000 Venezuelan migrants at US airports, while Mexico agreed to take back Venezuelans coming to the US by land.

Venezuelans who walk or swim across the border will be immediately returned to Mexico under a pandemic rule known as Title 42 Authority, which suspends the right to seek asylum under U.S. and international law to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 19 to prevent.

The US offer to Venezuelans is based on a similar program for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

The measures are in response to a dramatic increase in migration from Venezuela, which surpassed Guatemala and Honduras in August, becoming the second largest nationality to arrive at the US border after Mexico.

So far in 2022, more than 151,000 people have crossed Panama through the jungle, the majority – 107,600 – Venezuelans. That is, according to official Panamanian figures, already more than the 133,000 Venezuelans who crossed the year before. The journey through the inhospitable jungle is fraught with dangers, including thieves, traffickers and the possibility of sexual assault. Armed groups operate in the region.

The number of arrests of Venezuelans at the US border has also increased. Authorities detained Venezuelans 25,349 times in August, making them the second most detained nationality at the border after Mexicans.

For some, the supply of 24,000 humanitarian visas is not enough given the magnitude of the migration situation in Venezuela and the conditions for those visas are too difficult.

María Clara Robayo, a researcher for the Venezuelan Observatory at Del Rosario University in Colombia, said the flow of migrants through the Darién Gap may be reduced a bit, but it won’t stop.

“People will continue to expose themselves to precarious situations” that crisscross the jungle, she said.

Jeremy Villegas arrived in Necoclí in a group of 30 people, most of whom are returning or seeking other routes. He said he’s still undecided and waiting to hear from people further along the route to know if it’s worth the risk.

Cristian Casamayor said he has decided to stop his journey through the Darién after learning of the new US policy.

“I stopped out of consciousness and because I was smart … they mark your passport and you can’t enter the United States anymore,” he said, adding that he has not yet decided where he will go next. All he knows is that he will not return to Venezuela.

Mario Ricardo Camejo, a member of the Colombian-Venezuelan non-profit foundation Fundacolven, said that while they appreciate all aid and humanitarian visas from countries like the US, they are concerned that the aid comes with conditions that make it difficult for the poorest migrants. to make. For example, arriving by plane and having a financial sponsor.

“A filter is automatically created to ensure that help doesn’t reach the people who need it most,” Camejo says.

Of the more than 7.1 million Venezuelans who have left their country due to the social and economic crisis, at least 4.3 million have difficulties accessing food, housing and formal employment, according to a report released Wednesday by the International Organization for Migration and the UNHCR.

Venezuelans in that country’s capital agreed that the new rules will hurt.

“The people who leave by land have no money, no visa, no family there,” said José Santana in Caracas’ main square. “It is useless for them to say that they will let many in by plane.”

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