Jhonny, 26, and his pregnant wife, Cribsel, 19, sit with their two children at a migrant reception center in Chile. The altitude of 3,700 meters and freezing conditions took a considerable toll on this young family of four. They were sunburned and gasping for air.
The family walked for five hours from Bolivia to Chile, but this was only the final leg of a two-month journey, walking some 5,000 kilometers, five times across the border, while hiding from criminal groups. dangerous offense.
“This is our first time experiencing cold weather. This is the hardest part,” says Jhonny, with chapped lips and cracked feet. “We weren’t prepared with winter coats or blankets.”
In Venezuela, he used to be a construction worker, but he lost his job and it became impossible to provide for the basic needs of his family. They decided to leave their hometown of Aragua with just $450 and a backpack, for a hiking adventure through the Andean highlands, first crossing Colombia, and then Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. , slept on the street for most of their journey.
Brave desert conditions and sub-zero temperatures
Their story is not an isolated case. Often in small groups, exhausted people are traveling along one of the most extensive migration routes in the world, mostly on foot with periodic intervals by bus, taxi and other forms of transport. other downloads.
For Venezuelans traveling to Chile, the final hurdle is the harsh Atacama Desert, the driest and highest plateau in the world at nearly 4,000 meters above sea level and temperatures below minus 10 degrees. C.
Many migrants and refugees travel irregularly on these routes, facing dangers such as robbery and sexual exploitation and abuse by criminal groups. Seven people are reported to have died since the start of 2022, either from exposure to extreme conditions or from health complications stemming from pre-existing medical conditions aggravated by the desert’s harsh terrain. Atacama Desert.
IOM / Gema Cortes
‘Our goal is to work and do something constructive’
Near the Chilean town of Colchane and crossing the shared border with Bolivia at dawn, Jhonny’s family, along with other migrants, was relieved to find much-needed humanitarian help. They arrived hungry and suffered from hypothermia, dehydration, and altitude sickness.
According to estimates by the Chilean authorities, as of July, about 127,000 migrants entered Chile in 2022 through irregular border crossings. Many pass through Colchane, a small village with less than 500 inhabitants, 85% of whom are indigenous. They are often motivated by the desire to reunite with their family members and contribute to the host communities.
“Our goal is to work and do something constructive. I want people to think of me as a Venezuelan with something positive to offer. This will help change their perception of us,” adds Jhonny.
IOM / Gema Cortes
‘We were sleeping under a blanket covered with ice’
After months of trying since first arriving in Chile, Francisco and his family have struggled with low temperatures while living on the streets of Iquique, a big difference from the tropical conditions in their homeland. . The family of five now seek refuge in a temporary shelter funded and managed by the International Organization for Migration (International Organization for Migration).IOM).
“We were sleeping under an ice blanket, hugging each other for warmth. We had to use our bags as pillows to prevent theft during the night.”
Maria, 18, has finally reached a stable level after giving birth to a healthy baby boy in Chile.
She now resides in Iquique and is one of hundreds of people receiving humanitarian assistance from IOM in the form of cash vouchers, hundreds of which have been distributed to vulnerable families so they have the means to buy food, hygiene products and warm clothing.
IOM / Gema Cortes
Dreaming of returning home one day
Janeth Perez, 36, never thought that one day she would have to leave her beloved home. Back in her native Venezuela, she is a high school Math and Physics teacher, but her financial situation forces her to put her life and career on hold. She begins the long road to Chile, alone and in the hope of finding a new beginning.
After an arduous 11-day journey by bus, she had just arrived in Chile and was determined to head to the port city of Valparaiso, about 2,000 kilometers south of the Bolivia-Chile border, to reunite with her sister and start a new life. work at a supermarket.
Despite all those challenges, Janeth and many others are grateful for the opportunity to be able to work and support their families, both in Chile and back home in Venezuela. She dreams of formalizing her status, confirming her university diploma and working as a teacher, her passion.
“The future I imagine is a place where I can teach again to earn enough money to buy a house and return home to my son and mother to live together in peace.”