The migratory route: Lessons learnt
By Karla Alvear, PSS Expert, Ecuadorian Red Cross Institute
It ́s 8.30pm and the bus terminal in Boa Vista, capital of the state of Roraima, begins to cramp. Hundreds of heterogenic groups can be seen. Mothers carrying somnolent children, grandparents looking for familiar faces, noisy young people loaded with backpacks and histories. The offers of bus trips are abundant, but these users are not here for them, not yet at least. They gather at the bus terminal in search for shelter.
Once the sun is setting, they find in this building and in its surroundings a place to rest, forming groups with strangers that have migration as a common lace that binds them, making them feel less alone and more secure. It’s June 2018 and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) states that more than 43,000 Venezuelans have solicited their migratory status in Roraima, Brazil. According to the same UN Agency the presence of Venezuelans in Latin America has escalated by 900% (IOM, 2018) in the last two years, and it seems that the tendency will continue. Some countries like Brazil and Ecuador have declared a state of emergency in some territories due to the influx of large numbers of people coming from Venezuela, obligating those countries to improve their response by mobilizing a large spectrum of resources to attend the needs of this population.
Back in the bus terminal, I approach a couple with a toddler. I identify myself – I’m part of a team gathered to identify the needs of the Venezuelans in the process of migration. As a psychosocial support expert, I understand that the range of needs are wide, and that any intervention must take into account the perceived needs of the beneficiaries in order to reach the “no harm” principal. Otherwise, any good intention may result in an increase in vulnerability, instead of supporting the construction of the resilience needed.
“I’m Karla, may I speak with you for a short while?” The couple agrees. I began the conversation asking them the reasons for leaving their country. The answers are pretty much the same for each person: the loss in the purchasing power of the currency is the most common cause (according to a projection of the International Monetary Fund, the inflation rate in Venezuela will reach 1,000,000% this year (Alejandro Werner, 2018).
I look at them; they are no more than 22-years-old and are already facing the reality of raising a two-year-old child in the streets of Boa Vista, in a foreign country with an uncommon language, with no personal acquaintances, no support nets and no source of income. The parking lot is for now the place that can be called home. The little one plays with a can of milk that portrays the logo of a blue bear; she embraces it as her only toy left. The mother contemplates her with a mixture of guilt for not having a different scenario to raise her in, and hope, longing for the opportunities still existing in her mind. The choice to stay would only represent even more hunger. A job? She found a job, and later she was sexually assaulted by her employer. Reporting it? No way: the migrants, she says, don’t have a credible voice. The alternatives? To survive the existing conditions.
To find a regular source of income while avoiding (or tolerating) the labor exploitation that so often applies to migrants. To gather some money and continue the journey. Maybe in some other state the opportunities will be more abundant. Maybe she’ll find a job and even a house. Maybe an empty can won’t be her daughter’s only toy.
I leave them while their answers revolve in my mind. I then travel to another country where the people migrating from Venezuela are going. More interviews, more people with no homes, jobs or access to healthcare. More people with no sense of having a voice. More shelters, histories of loss and hope. More strength, more creativity, more love as a vital impulse to overcome any difficulty. They do
it for them – for the loved ones at home counting on the money, for their children, so they can have better opportunities. So they don’t starve.
After four countries, thousands of kilometers and hundreds of interviews the Psychosocial Needs Assessment is complete. I establish a list of priorities in need of attention, propose the best ways to achieve these objectives with consideration of tools and resources, determine the at-risk groups and possible ways to approach them.
The ‘hows’ and the ‘whens’ are set. The Response Plan is complete. It’s somebody else’s job to put it in motion. They will do so, and they will do it properly and efficiently.
However, something is missing. There is no point in hearing so many voices and so many histories if I can’t learn from them. And I’m not talking about the professional aspects, the ‘lessons learnt.’ I’m talking about the richness of hearing about other people’s lives, the treasure of someone else’s history put it into my own hands. The reclaiming of sensitivity to understand that we are not so different, just people experiencing different circumstances yet sharing in the same human condition.
‘That could be me,’ I repeat to myself. That way my proposal is not so centred on profiles but on people with names, faces and dignity; my own humanity is an added value to the work. The humanitarian cause has gained a new face, my own.