"I can't see when we will return to our country"

Venezuelan migrants have few options in Colombia

An MSF team member tends to a woman and her child at a project for Venezuelan migrants in Mexico.
Colombia 2019 © Esteban Montaño/MSF
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Living conditions and access to medical care have deteriorated in Venezuela due to acute political, economic, and social crises, forcing more than 3.4 million people to leave the country in recent years. Many cross the border into Colombia, but insecurity and criminal violence put them at risk there, too. In response, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams provide primary and mental health care, family planning services, and information on social services to Venezuelan migrants in Colombia’s La Guajira, Norte de Santander, and Arauca departments.

Marilyn Díaz and her family arrived in Tibú, in Colombia’s Norte de Santander department, a year and a half ago from the Venezuelan state of Zulia. Here, Díaz shares her story in her own words.

"I went to MSF because I was told that there was an ‘assistance for Venezuelans’ day. I approached them because I had physical problems and because my son was virtually not eating. I arrived in the morning and had to wait until the afternoon, but they took care of me and my son too. He was underweight; they gave him ready-to-use food and got his condition under control. At first we went every week and then every two weeks. Fortunately, he is much better now.

When we first came to MSF, I was pregnant. I was tested and they gave me medicines and vitamins and told me to come in for monitoring. I gave birth three days ago and I’ve come back today to get contraceptives. I gave birth here at the hospital and everything went well.

Other Venezuelans had scared me, telling me I wouldn’t receive care [in Tibú]. They said I should go to Cúcuta because here they’d let me die, as they don’t provide care for Venezuelans. I have a ‘special residency permit’ but I am still waiting to get health insurance. When my labor pains started, I came to the emergency room and fortunately they treated me quickly and everything went well.

Marilyn Díaz and her family arrived in Tibú, in Colombia’s Norte de Santander department, a year and a half ago from the Venezuelan state of Zulia.
Marilyn Díaz and her family arrived in Tibú, in Colombia’s Norte de Santander department, a year and a half ago from the Venezuelan state of Zulia.
Colombia 2019 © Esteban Montaño/MSF

I come from Zulia state. We decided to come here because the situation was difficult. My husband is a barber and it wasn’t working out. His job didn’t bring in nearly enough. I also worked selling breakfasts in the street, but I couldn’t earn even a basic wage. My husband left first, then he returned to get me, and I came here with him and our son. I haven’t returned to Venezuela since. I’d like to go back, but it just isn’t possible because the situation there is getting worse.

That’s why I told my dad to come here too. He used to have a job transporting passengers, but the time came when they couldn’t get hold of tires, batteries, or spare parts. Now he works here selling coffee. He has an established route around the local businesses and fortunately it gives him enough to pay the rent and bills. 

Despite that, he has had malaria three times in four months. Each time we have come here and they’ve taken care of us and given us medicines. The doctor told him that it’s spread by mosquitoes and gave him a net to protect himself. We think it’s is because a neighbor stores a lot of water in a tank and there are many mosquitoes, but we can’t do anything about it right now.

We are surviving here, but we can’t see when we will return to our country."