Venezuelan migration: The children and adolescents’ point of view

Long journeys on foot, saying goodbye to relatives, experiencing new places – this is the life of Venezuelan children and adolescents who leave for other countries.

Ana María Castro
© UNICEF Ecuador2018/Arcos
UNICEF Ecuador/2018/Arcos

14 November 2018

Rumichaca, Ecuador - Choosing a favourite toy to pack has become a regular activity in the lives of Venezuelan children as they prepare for journeys that they hope will reunite them with family members in neighbouring Latin American countries.

“Sometimes it takes a long time to pack your bags because things don’t fit, but we don’t realise that the most important thing is already there: our loved ones,” says Gaviannys Rivera, 12-years-old.

The crisis has prompted thousands of children and adolescents to leave Venezuela with their families, in difficult conditions and weary of the discrimination and xenophobia they might face in some places along the way.

© UNICEF Ecuador/2018/Arcos
UNICEF Ecuador/2018/Arcos
Esleyker Gómez, 16 years old.
© UNICEF Ecuador/2018/Castro
UNICEF Ecuador/2018/Castro
Gaviannys Rivera, 12 years old.

For 16-year-old Esleyker Gómez, the most difficult thing is leaving behind the friends he has known for so long. “Now, I need to figure out how I’m going to finish high school. The situation in Venezuela is so hard that you can’t even buy school supplies,” he says.

Emily Fuentes, also 16-years-old, says that she had to give up her studies for a while to work in a children’s clothes shop and help her mum. “After that I was able to go back to school, but it was tough,” she says.

Ecuador, just like countries including Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Chile, is dealing with an influx of Venezuelan people on the move. About 760,00 Venezuelans have entered the country over land from January to October. The peak in numbers came in August this year, with more than 80,000 people entering. An estimated 20% will stay in Ecuador.

According to official figures, almost 140,000 of those who will stay are children and adolescents. They arrive at Ecuador’s northern borders with their families, after travelling for days in difficult conditions.   

© UNICEF Ecuador/2018/Castro
UNICEF Ecuador/2018/Castro
Emily Paola Fuentes, 16 years old.
© UNICEF Ecuador/2018/Arcos
UNICEF Ecuador/2018/Arcos
Esleyver Gómez, 5 years old.

Many of them have to spend the night at border crossing points, like the one at Rumichaca, which is 3,000 metres above sea level, with temperatures dipping as low as 3° C (37.4° F).

5-year-old Esleyver Gómez, has been travelling with his dad, his brother and their dog, Toby, for two days. “My least favourite thing has been the cold. I am really looking forward to getting to Peru because I haven’t seen my mum in four months and she is waiting for us,” says the boy, also from Venezuela.

En la noche, niños y madres venezolanas pasan la noche en las carpas de descanso temporal de UNICEF en Rumichaca, en el lado ecuatoriano de la frontera con Colombia. UNICEF suministra a las madres y a los niños cobijas térmicas y ropa de invierno.
UNICEF/UN0253270/Moreno Gonzalez
Venezuelan children and mothers spend the night in UNICEF's temporary rest tents in Rumichaca, on the Ecuadorian side of the border with Colombia. UNICEF supplies mothers and children with thermal blankets and winter clothing.

UNICEF Ecuador’s response

Working in coordination with national authorities, UNICEF has allocated $2.5 million and is present in the border areas of Rumichaca and San Miguel, located on the border with Colombia, and in Huaquillas in the south. So far, 15,600 children have been provided with safe drinking water and sanitation, while 4,600 thermal blankets have been handed out to protect against the icy temperatures. About 2,500 baby kits and 5,000 hygiene kits have also been provided. In addition, child-friendly spaces and tents for temporary rest have been installed and cash transfers have been given to 230 family groups, including 450 children, so that they can carry on with their journeys.

Alongside this, UNICEF is doing important advocacy work with the authorities to guarantee the rights of the Venezuelan children and adolescents who are entering Ecuador every day. One example is the 'Protocol for the assistance of children, adolescents and their families in contexts of human mobility in Ecuador', which was approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, the Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion and the Interior Ministry. The protocol was drawn up with help from UNICEF and it will contribute to the implementation of the plan at border crossing points, through training, technical assistance and case monitoring.

From July to October this year, UNICEF identified 1,192 children who had not been registered because they lacked the necessary documents or exit permits, or because they were travelling alone. This protocol is important because it responds to these cases, ensuring protection measures, preventing family separation, unjustified return of children to their country of origin, and identifying children who are victims of violence, trafficking or exploitation.

Faced with the challenges of those families who decide to stay, UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education on the inclusion of Venezuelan children in schools and on specific programmes to combat xenophobia and discrimination. This complements ongoing work to ensure that all Ecuadorian children access a quality education.