Companion churches in Colombia, Peru, Chile and Argentina assist Venezuelan migrants
Companions Churches accommodate, accompany and integrate Venezuelan migrants and refugees, ELCA/GM accompanies and supports the churches.
Throughout many decades, according to economic fluctuations of the region, has been migration since certain South American countries to others, regional fluxes and refluxes, cyclical and reciprocal. In 1960´s migrants came to Venezuela from different parts of the world attracted by democratic stability and oil prosperity; In the 1970s Colombian, Argentine, Chilean and Uruguayan citizens migrated to Venezuela; which was a migration receiving country. For Venezuelan people the idea of emigrating from their country was Inconceivable; that is not anymore.
In recent years the situation has changed dramatically, according to UN, from 2015 more than 3 million. People have emigrated from Venezuela, which is the country with the greater amount of oil reserves in the world. Ninety percent of migrants remain in South America.Hyperinflation, shortages of food and medicines, unemployment, daily power cuts, violence, repression and imprisonment of political leaders, repression of protests and in particular youth protests are driving (even people with few resources) to migrate, challenging the harsh geography and the increasingly restrictive migration laws, abandoning their lives in Venezuela to try their luck anywhere where possible.
For worse, the government has disallowed most international humanitarian aid organizations to work within Venezuela
The weight of the largest mass migration in the history of the continent falls on Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, countries that have welcomed Venezuelan migrants but recently adjusted income requirements. Until recently, Venezuelans could enter many South American countries only with their national identity documents, but the rules have hardened, and now passports or additional documentation are required.
By migrating illegally, migrants exposed themselves to criminal networks that control human trafficking, prostitution, drug trafficking, and other abuses. Migrants face terrible situations during transit and in their first destinations: lack of shelter, unemployment, misinformation, loss of contact with their families and support networks, the cold indifference that many endure when they are needed to sleep outdoors in places public, and the lack of medical attention in already overburdened hospitals.
Even so, the majority advances towards distant capitals, many on foot, crossing cold Andean passes and suffocating tropical lands. These displacements also affect the cities and neighboring countries, especially Colombia and Peru, as expressed by local authorities and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR
Many times, hunger, lack of food and medicines are due to environmental or natural causes, but, they are the result of political circumstances, that is, effects produced by governments lack capacity, administrating a negligent and deliberate abuse of power.
The painful shortage, abandonment, and Venezuelan migration is not the product of a natural catastrophe but of the disengagement of the government that breaks the institutionalism and violates human rights; what is denounced by the clear majority of Latin American nations and the international community
Companion churches responses
In this context of unprecedented migration crisis, Latin American churches are providing humble and spontaneous services of solidarity and welcome to migrants: families, single women, children, young people, all of them in conditions of extreme vulnerability. Migrants whose only option was to leave the country, sometimes walking for days, seeking a dignified life and the possibility of building a future.
Several congregations in the Latin American companion churches are assisting, mostly in poor neighborhoods where congregations are and where migrants find some spaces to shelter.
Local congregations help with their scarce resources, offering a minimum of humanitarian aid, mitigating desolation, protecting fundamental rights, ensuring subsistence, safeguarding the dignity of people and communities’ victims of forced migration.
In Colombia, IELCO Congregation Lluvias de Gracias in-Bogotá and Congregación Divino Redentor-in Bucaramanga; Peru, IL-P Belén Congregation, Lima; in Argentina-Uruguay, IELU San Pedro-Posadas Congregation offer, under their limited possibilities, basic shelter and shelter services
The congregations develop a process of accompaniment establishing a relationship of trust, respect, and knowledge, based on hospitality, active listening, and dialogue, and enabling the connections with different local networks on migration.
Churches offer information to migrants about rights, and connections with support networks, facilitate communication and family reunification; and humanitarian assistance in basic needs such as shelter, health, hygiene, food, used clothing store, employment information, and legal assistance
Even the accompaniment of the congregations include aspects of assistance in basic needs, the main focus is on social learning processes; creation of new bonds; development of personal and community capacities; assumption of new roles; recognition of the migrants as subjects of law; strengthening the processes of participation and decision-making.
The processes of accompaniment to migrants are designed for a period, in general, of three years, after which progress should have been made to allow migrant persons and families to reestablish minimum conditions of socioeconomic autonomy.
ELCA / GM has established a strategy to deal with the Venezuelan migration crisis, comprehensively addressing support in border areas, accompanying the Lutheran Church in Venezuela and being supportive of its fellow churches that are receiving refugees and Venezuelan migrants. ELCA companions can support their congregations by applying small funds through Disaster Aid projects facilitated by Global Mission / ELCA (ELCA Disaster Response)