EXODUS: Operation Blessing Meeting Needs of Desperate Venezuelan Refugees

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CUCUTA, Colombia – The crisis in Venezuela shows no signs of letting up as constant power outages, food and medical shortages, and roving gangs of criminals are driving more people to leave every day.

More than a tenth of all Venezuelans have now fled to other countries. And one border town in the neighboring country of Colombia is struggling to keep up with the flood of desperate people.  

Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have come streaming across this border trying to escape the third-world conditions inside their country. So many have come out in the last few weeks that the border area outside Cucuta Colombia is sheer chaos. With Venezuelan currency all but worthless, people do whatever they can to get enough to survive, selling candy, coffee and even their own hair for enough money to survive.  

Crime, prostitution and drug use are rampant, and after dark these filthy streets become a giant open-air sleeping area for hundreds of families, including many small children, because they simply have nowhere else to go. It’s a hard life, to be sure, for so many, even this is better than what they left behind.

Seventeen-year-old Wendy came here a month ago from Valencia, Venezuela, where two weeks salary was just about enough to buy a small bag of flour.

But after having to sleep on the ground and being unable to sell enough to get by, she’s having second thoughts.  

“I have been here for one month. I left because of the situation in Venezuela because of Maduro, but here it is very difficult, staying here sleeping on the street. Perhaps it would be better back there because I have a family, help and a bed. And here I am suffering by sleeping in the street,” Wendy said.

It doesn’t take long for most who cross here to realize staying in Cucuta is unsustainable since the city is now said to hold more Venezuelans than Colombians. So thousands of Venezuelan refugees are picking up and walking the highway south, with little more than hope to cling to.  

They say if you want to understand somebody you have to walk a mile in their shoes. That’s why I’m out here on this busy highway, walking with a family who are hiking from Cucuta, Colombia all the way to Bogota. It’s very dangerous with lots of big trucks going by. They’ve got their little kids with them, and the problem with walking a mile in someone’s shoes is that so many of these people don’t have any shoes. And that’s where Operation Blessing comes in.

Operation Blessing’s Diego Traverso said, “Most of the migrants are walking uphill for several hours, in really bad conditions to reach Pamplona first and then go to Bucaramanga or other cities, bigger cities than Cucuta.”

Operation Blessing has been providing shoes and socks to those who need them along the trail, but more than that, along with local Christian organizations, they’ve been sharing the love of Christ in other ways.

“Today we’re planning to have a medical brigade here on the way to Pamplona, also Operation Blessing is bringing some water solutions so we’re going to be setting up a clean water station for the migrants, so even when we are not here they are going to be able to just walk by, open the faucet, refill their bottles and it’s going to be safe water for them,” Traverso said.

Unlike the migrant caravans traveling out of Honduras last November, very few of these migrants say they plan to go to the United States. Another difference is that the majority of the Venezuelans CBN spoke to said they’d be happy to turn around and go back home just as soon as Nicolas Maduro and his regime are no longer in power.  

In the meantime, Operation Blessing will be here to help these weary travelers keep walking towards a better life.