With the deep political and socio-economic crisis, a large number of Venezuelans have fled to other countries, including Ecuador. Many people have journeyed on foot, earning them the name caminantes (walkers/hikers), and have encountered various challenges but also forms of solidarity along the way. This blog centres on the experiences of different actors who have provided aid to caminantes as they traverse Ecuador, turning the one-dimensional idea of migrants and refugees as victims on its head.
Since 2014, Venezuela has been grappling with a deepening political and socio-economic crisis. The situation has quickly deteriorated to the point where poverty, food, and medicine shortages, violence, and political oppression have caused thousands of Venezuelans to flee the country and seek refuge in other Latin American countries, as well as in the United States and Spain. However, due to the challenging economic circumstances, many migrants cannot afford traditional modes of transportation or access the documents needed to travel. Consequently, walking has become a viable option for low-income families, giving rise to the term ‘caminantes’ to describe them.1
During my fieldwork,2 I had the privilege of meeting both solidarity actors and migrants who were still on their journey. What surprised me the most was the high level of organisation and knowledge-sharing among the solidarity actors, many of whom are migrants themselves, which challenges the commonly held belief that migrants are solely aid recipients. By sharing legal information, food, shelter, and emotional support, they created a safe space for those navigating the uncertainties associated with migration.
Venezuelan migration dynamics in Ecuador
Ecuador has become a significant destination for the Venezuelan diaspora, with nearly half a million Venezuelans settling in the country. At the same time, families continue to walk along Ecuadorian roads, seeking a new home in Ecuador or further south. Despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and a weakening economy, migration has persisted – in 2022 alone, more than 250,000 people crossed through Ecuador to reach countries like Peru or Chile, according to the United Nations.3
Notwithstanding Ecuador’s own sizable diaspora in the United States and Europe, the country presents various challenges for and levels of hostility towards migrants. Since 2017, Ecuador has implemented stricter migration policies, which has contributed to the limiting of access to public services and the formal labour market. Moreover, criminal violence in Ecuador has sharply risen by 82.5% since 2021, exacerbating inequalities and instability migrant groups face and contributing to xenophobic acts and attitudes towards Venezuelans.4 Following national protests in June 2022, when Venezuelan citizens were associated with violent criminal activities, xenophobic messaging increased by over 343%.5 These hostilities are not only directed at migrants but also those supporting them, including former migrants themselves. Consequently, approximately 110,000 Venezuelan migrants have left Ecuador in the past two years in search of better opportunities in neighbouring countries.6
Exploring solidarity networks among caminantes and solidarity actors in Ecuador
Caminantes played a crucial role in my research, which sought to understand the impact of solidarity initiatives on their journeys. During my fieldwork in four towns in the summer of 2022, I met the Gomez family*, whose members migrated as caminantes in 2017 and settled in a small rural coastal town in Ecuador. They established a shelter to provide food, legal advice, and medical aid to fellow caminantes despite facing extortion, discrimination, and economic instability themselves. Roberto, a member of the Gomez family, emphasised their commitment to helping other migrants, drawing from his own experiences: “I know how it feels to be an emigrant because it is not easy to live that life, to live a life where you do not have a fixed journey or a point of arrival. And that is an intense experience. It really is.”
Although they have limited resources and face numerous challenges, Venezuelan migrants in this part of Ecuador have formed community networks. Eight solidarity actors I encountered during my fieldwork have established foundations that offer legal advice, support for informal businesses and job-seeking efforts, and support accessing social benefits through international organisations. They assist migrants of various nationalities, including Venezuelans, Colombians, Cubans, and Haitians. These actors face physical and legal threats but demonstrate solidarity with those who defy borders in search of a better life, just as they do. Their journey continues as they provide support to countless unknown people, offering shelter and seeking opportunities and safety for their own families. Other migrants with stable jobs or access to services now contribute significantly to the activities of actors like the Gomez family.
Solidarity is also practised among migrants who are walking to reach their new destination. Andres, a 22-year-old Venezuelan migrant, stressed that “we would also help each other on the road. We would sit in a place, a little park to rest … we would share – if I had and you did not, mine was yours. So, we all helped each other”. The interactions that occur during the journey also provide a sense of community and belonging to a network that can be sustained in time, as Martha recalls about her experience with a family they met on the journey: “I met the boy and the family I told you [about]. The man came in a wheelchair. He came with his wife and his child. In fact, my husband was a beacon of light to them. And they were a beacon of light to us. We became a family”.
Solidarity and resilience: a common factor in migrant communities
Despite facing significant challenges, the Gomez family and other interviewees dedicate their limited resources to helping others. Their resilience and determination serve as a powerful example of how migrants can come together and support each other to overcome obstacles such as a lack of access to services and high levels of violence. Their strength and resourcefulness allow them to provide crucial assistance to others in similar situations while also trying to start their new life in a different country, creating new opportunities for themselves and their families but also being an essential source of support for thousands who are still on their journey.
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About the author:
Fernanda González Ronquillo is a graduate of ISS, specialising in Human Rights within the Social Justice Perspectives major. Currently, she is interning at a local scale-up that supports women with a migrant background to enter the Dutch labour market.
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