June 19, 2020. Colombia: A group of Venezuelan is walking on the highway a few kilometers after Bogota. They are coming from Lima (Peru), from where they left a month ago. They are going to Valencia in Venezuela. They start walking in the morning at 6am and stop around 5pm. In the last few days, they are only 10 km a day because one of the women is 4 months pregnant. They wash themselves in the rivers they come across or in the petrol stations. Credit: Nadège Mazars for NRC
Colombia

The long walk home

In June 2020, photographer Nadège Mazars met with a group of Venezuelans on the highway outside the Colombian capital of Bogotá. Here, we share the stories of these refugees and migrants forced to return home by the ongoing pandemic.

A group of Venezuelans is walking along the highway a few kilometres outside Bogotá. They are coming from Lima in Peru, where they left a month ago, and heading to the city of Valencia in the north of Venezuela.

They start walking at 6 am each morning and stop around 5 pm. For the last few days, they have only managed to travel 10 km a day because one of the women is pregnant. They wash themselves in the rivers they find along the way, or at petrol stations.

The UN estimates that more than five million refugees and migrants have left Venezuela for other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent years. However, the Covid-19 pandemic is now forcing tens of thousands to return home, as lockdown measures prevent them from earning a living.

June 19, 2020. Colombia: The three Venezuelan people and the baby (one an half year) start their journey 2 days ago, they were living in Soacha,  a neighboring and working-class town in the south of Bogotá. They have to leave because they were evicted from their house. At the right side, Eduar Rodriguez (21) was in Ecuador before moving to Colombia as he stayed witout working in Ecuador. Credit: Nadège Mazars for NRC
Read caption On the highway we meet with Bregorio Rodriguez, 27, his girlfriend Mariannis Barco, 19, their 18-month-old baby, Gabriela, and Bregorio’s brother, Eduar, 21. Photo: Nadège Mazars/NRC

Travelling on foot

On the highway we meet with Bregorio Rodriguez, 27, his girlfriend Mariannis Barco, 19, their 18-month-old baby, Gabriela, and Bregorio’s brother, Eduar, 21. They are travelling on foot, carrying all their belongings in two baby wagons.

They started their journey two days ago. They had been living in Soacha, a working-class town to the south of Bogotá, but had to leave when they were evicted from their house.

June 19, 2020. Colombia: Three Venezuelan people are walking on the north highway near Bogota. They are  carrying an inconvenient piece of luggage on their shoulders. They have been walking all day. They come from Ecuador, which they left only 10 days ago. The day before they managed to get a ride. Credit: Nadège Mazars for NRC
Read caption The Covid-19 pandemic is now forcing tens of thousands to return home, as lockdown measures prevent them from earning a living. Photo: Nadège Mazars/NRC

Their livelihoods have dried up

“The biggest factor that makes Venezuelan refugees particularly vulnerable is that they often do not have regular legal status in their host countries. This means that they have limited access to formal employment, reliable shelter, or public health services,” says Nayibe Pérez, rapid response unit project manager with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Colombia.

In the face of such adverse conditions, some Venezuelans have decided to return home as their livelihoods have dried up abroad. As of 30 June 2020, more than 80,000 had returned from different parts of Latin America.

June 19, 2020. Colombia: Maria Duque (28) from NRC team is jumping during the workshop she gives to  a group of Venezuelan children met on the highway as they were walking with their parents towards Venezuela.  . The workshop consists of child protection activities, both on migration issues and on prevention around themes such as forced recruitment, forced labour or sexual abuse. It uses a method around body movement strategy to try to raise awareness of their bodies. Credit: Nadège Mazars for NRC.
Read caption Maria Duque, wearing a black and orange NRC vest, is leading some children in a group activity. Photo: Nadège Mazars/NRC

Protecting the vulnerable

Maria Duque, wearing a black and orange NRC vest, is leading some children in a group activity. Some parents are standing by, watching.

Maria and her team are holding workshops and various activities. The workshops focus on migration issues and on risks such as forced recruitment, child labour and sexual abuse. The team uses a method based on “body movement strategy” to help the children become more aware of their bodies.

June 19, 2020. Colombia: Maria Duque (28) from NRC (from the back) is leading a workshop with Darianny Franco (13), a Venezuelan teenager travelling with her families from Lima (Peru) to Valencia (Venezuela). They  they left Lima a month ago. The workshop consists of child protection activities, both on migration issues and on prevention around themes such as forced recruitment, forced labour or sexual abuse. It uses a method around body movement strategy to try to raise awareness of their bodies. Credit: Nadège Mazars for NRC
Read caption Maria Duque from NRC is leading a workshop with Darianny Franco, 13, a Venezuelan teenager travelling with her mother from Lima in Peru to Valencia in Venezuela. They left Lima a month ago. Photo: Nadège Mazars/NRC

In addition, NRC is providing food, water and hygiene equipment, as well as puzzles, school supplies and some clothes for the children to protect them from cold.

The team is also helping the travellers with legal assistance and information about Covid-19, and explaining about the risks that they might find on road.

June 19, 2020. Colombia: Darianny Franco (13), a Venezuelan teenager is travelling with her families avec her dog Sachita from Lima (Peru) to Valencia (Venezuela). They left Lima a month ago. Credit: Nadège Mazars for NRC
Read caption Darianny Franco, 13, with her dog Sachita. They have been travelling on foot since leaving Peru a month ago. Photo: Nadège Mazars/NRC

“I would like to take a hot shower”

Maria sits down with a teenage girl in a pink sweater.

“My name is Darianny,” says the girl.

“How long have you been travelling?” we ask.

“I’m traveling with my mum and my dog Sachita. We left Peru on foot a month ago. We are heading towards our home country Venezuela, and I am glad that we are getting closer to our destination.”

The 13-year-old is happy to receive some clothes and hygiene items.

“I have not changed my clothes for days, and I would like to take a hot shower. But most of all I am looking forward to seeing my grandmother. I miss her so much. I have not seen her in two years.”

June 19, 2020. Colombia: Hector Castillo (23) is a Venezuelan migrant native from Caracas. He just received a bag and stuff from the NGO NRC to give him better walking conditions. He is in Colombia since one and a half years. He's been walking all day with two other friends. They hope to reach the city of Paipa, some 200 km from Bogota, where the aunt of one of his friends will give them shelter for a while. Today he says, in relation to the crisis: "The only thing we can do is walk.".  Credit: Nadège Mazars for NRC
Read caption Hector Castillo with his new backpack. Photo: Nadège Mazars/NRC

A new backpack

Hector Castillo, 23, has just received a new backpack from NRC, to help him travel more comfortably. He is originally from the Venezuelan capital Caracas, but has been living in Colombia for the last 18 months.

“We are not promoting the return of migrants and refugees, but we are bringing dignity and humanity to the people we meet on the road”, Duque explains.

Hector has been walking all day together with two friends. They hope to reach the city of Paipa, 200 kilometres from Bogota, where an aunt of one of his friends will give them shelter for a while.

“The only thing we can do is to walk,” he explains.

June 19, 2020. Colombia: The NRC team met on the highway a group of Venezuelan people and gave them some stuff and personal hygiene kits. They are 6 adults and they are travelling with five children. One of the women is pregnant.  One of them came walking from  Rumichaca at the border between Colombia and Peru. Other are walking from Peru. Credit: Nadège Mazars for NRC
Read caption Yormayra Castillo (in the middle) together with some of her travelling companions. Photo: Nadège Mazars/NRC

Four months pregnant

Yormayra Castillo, 21, is travelling with five other adults, plus her son and four other children. One of her companions has walked from Rumichaca on the border between Colombia and Peru. The others have walked from Peru.

Yormayra is four months pregnant and all the walking makes her very tired, but she is thankful for the assistance NRC is offering. The group has received new backpacks and hygiene kits among other things.

June 19, 2020. Colombia: Jackson Antonio Ramirez Ruiz (36) arrived at a bus station on the north highway, where  the NRC NGO gives some stuff to the walkers. Among other things, he received a pair of socks which he hastened to put on.  He walks from Lima (Peru) and began his journey on May 27, 24 days before. He lived 2 and a half years in Peru where he worked in meat preparation. "Sometimes, on the way, people give us food. But because we're ashamed, we don't ask. We weren't taught to ask for money."  Credit: Nadège Mazars for NRC
Read caption Jackson Antonio Ramirez Ruiz tries on his new socks. Photo: Nadège Mazars/NRC

We do not ask for anything

Jackson Antonio Ramirez Ruiz, 36, has just arrived at a bus station on the highway, where NRC is providing walkers with backpacks, shoes, socks and hygiene items.

Jackson has travelled from Lima in Peru over the last three weeks. He lived for two and a half years in Peru, where he worked in a kitchen. When the restaurant closed, he lost his income and had to leave, like many other Venezuelans.

“Sometimes, on the way, people give us food. But because we are ashamed, we do not ask for anything. We weren't taught to ask for money,” he says.

Read more about Venezuela and neglected crises