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For the past five decades Colombia has been home to an internal armed conflict that has lead to the second largest humanitarian crisis in the world. The past 20 years of conflict have claimed the lives of approximately 70,000 people, the majority of them civilians, who were not taking active part in the hostilities. More than 4 million people have been internally displaced and others have "disapparead". The exact number of Colombians who have fled the country because of this war is unknown. At present, there are approximately 200,000 people who have crossed the border into Venezuela seeking protection. However, up until June (December) of 2009, only 13,983 (cambiar esta cifra) have oficially claimed refugee status before the Venezuelan state. Of those, only 1,421 (cambiar esta cifra) have been acknowledged as refugees. In Venezuela, women make up approximately 48% of the population claiming refugee status. Of these, 61% have more than 4 children and 28% have between 3 and 4 children. We never thought the paramilitaries were going to come, that they would force us to move. I never heard from him again. I have no idea if he is dead or alive, I just never heard from him again. The Border The main reason for leaving is this war, the constant war. You get used to living in fear and you just never know. Now they say that the small village I lived in is doing much better, but it's not true, a community that endures this will never be the same again. "My love don't leave me" One night here and another night there, then running off to a friend's house in some other village to see if people would help us out. Women in Refugee Testimonies from a Border As for me, I am a rural woman. I was brought up in a rural area, in fact, you can see here, I have animals and Nubia, Refuge Applicant, 2001 I grew up among livestock, animals, cattle, chickens, pigs. We used to live well. I mean sure we lived in the middle of armed groups, on the fringes of society, but it wasn't until the paramilitary came when we were really that we were forced to flee. We had to abandon everything, leave all our land, everything we had and ended up displaced. Marta, come here for a moment. Where we lived, there were different types of people, Nancy, Refuge Applicant, 2002 so if some armed groups came and asked us to collaborate with them by giving them water or food one never did it out of one's free will. We did it because we had to. Others would then think one belonged to that one group. and it was hard to know what to do because it wasn't out of free will but rather because we were forced. They accused him of collaborating with the guerrilla and that's why they took him away. This is the way it was. You would leave your house and wherever you went you would hear gunshots of the military battling the guerrilla. Lady, Refugee Then there were signs on the streets, or lists, and they would say, "let's kill the tattle tales". It was horrible. It's hard to know what to do or where to go. Unless one experiences this situation, I really think nobody understands what it's like to live through this. It's very tough! The paramilitary and the ELN (National Liberation Army) are the same. Argenis, Refugee Applicant You start seeing them coming into the villages, to the farms, winning people over but when they feel like getting down on people they attack everyone. We got to Botalón. It was also full of military and of the famous "elenos" (National Liberation Army soldiers). When they killed my boy, they killed him because he would not go with them. If they find the man's wife they will do the same. Sometimes women can away with it a bit more but if there are elder children in the family, they kill them when they can't find the father of the house. The first time they took him, they tortured him and then they let him go. The second time they didn't let him come back and I got a letter where it said that if I did turn myself in I would have the same luck. I got very afraid. I got sick because I could not eat. I feared everything. I made the decision to leave everything behind and came here. Almost all the families that claim refugee status here in the region of the Alto Apure come from rural communities, they are from the country side, they are families with limited material resources. There are many cases in which families have already been internally displaced, Angel Granja, UNHCR Coordinator in Guasdualito and have slowly lost a lot of their resources during the process. By the time they reach the border they are living in greater poverty. I come from the southern part of Bolivar where I first experienced being massively displaced. I mean massively because I was not alone, we all had to leave. After Bolivar, then came Santander. There I moved with my whole family fearing violence. I did not want to go to the meetings. It was not of my best interest to attend if I wanted to protect my family. Then from Barranca Bermeja to Arauca. Then I had to flee again because they would accuse those that left of "owing something". And it wasn't like that. Then they would come look for us and ask us why we were running away. We were not doing the things they wanted us to do. We opposed violence, the conflict, the war. From there I finally came here to Venezuela. With three small children I arrived at a small town where I didn't know anyone. My little girl was 5 years old, Jason was four and the my baby boy was only 13 months old. There weren't any family members, no friends, nobody, because those I was traveling with, were just like "Bye, we are leaving you." But I am a Colombian women and I know how to get on with life with my children. Coming here to Venezuela, was, like I said... On one hand, I missed my family, and on the other hand, it was hard to support myself as living alone was complicated. It was hard because my dad came but mom stayed back with us. You just didn't know what was going to happen. You just never knew if today you were going to eat, if you were going to go to bed alive and whether you would wake up alive. All days were the same, there was this sadness, it's like the sun comes out and it's all black. One does not think about what can happen... I don't even know how to describe it. I came with a gentleman in a truck. He saw the situation in which I was living. The river grew and I was living near the bridge and it was flooded. I had to keep my children over a mat because below that there was water. The man saw me and asked "Women, do you live there?" I said, "Yes, I live here." And he said, "Your children are going to die there." My little boy was sick in bed and the second one and the smaller one as well. I was also sick with shivers and a fever. In this area women are not majority. They constitute about half the population that arrives, however, women constitute one of the most vulnerable groups considering that at least statistically we have found that here in Venezuela within the population of Colombian refugees at least 60% of them are mothers with many children. Among them there is a great percentage of women alone, of women that lead the household by themselves and face an even more vulnerable situation compared to refugee men and biparental families. Let's say that one is not going to change one life for another because it's not that easy. It's not easy to live in Venezuela in the same way it is to live in Colombia. For example, it's not easy being Venezuelan and living in another country. It is difficult. In what sense? In regards to documentation. With proper documentation one wants to find a job in order to improve one's quality of life and give more to one's children.™ Children fall in love with things and one does not have the means to buy these things for them. (one does not make enough...) I feel there are few difficulties when it comes to the adaptation process. Adaptation is actually quiet quick. There is one problem related to documentation Ingrid Bournat Psychologist JRS Venezuela that I feel is the most tangible. Well, if they don't have the Venezuelan paperwork, consequently, there are a series of situations that become more and more difficult. For example, as far as mobilization or having a job that will allow them to have access to social security, having access to education for their children, and more than access to education, it is about being able to obtain certified grades, in other words, all the required paperwork that is needed. To move from one place to another, for example, if I left to Cacaguita and I knew there was a military checkpoint there I would immediately hide. Even if my child was sick or if I didn't have food I would not leave the house. I thought to myself, "If those people catch me they will send me back. Me and my children. Who will take care of my children if I end up in jail or if they send me back to Colombia? What if once there I am forced to return to that small farm, where I used to live in South of Bolivar and it's on fire. It's so far. I can't take the risk. What should I do?" So I would stay home. Many times I suffered because I could not leave the house. Goodbye precious! The courses at the Sucre's Educational Program were about to end in September, I think, and we were starting university in October. So they were going to ask for our papers, they wanted to see all my certified school grades and documents. And I thought, "Dear God, help!". So I took my graduation certificate, my grades, everything I had, and went over to the university. Just for having participated in the Sucre's Educational Program I was going to be admitted. They said this and that. They said I could I submit these papers now but I would later have to have them legally certified. They accepted them temporarily. "Temporarily" has meant three years and I still have the same papers. "Temporarily" has been a long, long, time... During the second semester, we were in this one course. My God! I had to go and come back every morning. I would go to school and then at noon I had to return home and the university bus wouldn't drive us back. At the checkpoint they would ask me for my papers. I told them I didn't' have them and showed them proof of enrollment. The soldier would say, "I am not interested in seeing this. This means nothing". They would leave me there, one, two, three hours. They wouldn't let me get through. They would send me back. When I would go from home to school in the afternoon because I had class, they would make me stay at all the checkpoints. How annoying! That was just one of the problems. The process of claiming refugee status is quite slow. Merlys Mosquera, Former Country Director of the JRS In fact, the Jesuit Refugee Service has cases from 2001 that have not yet received an answer from the Venezuelan state. So this issue has become one of the primary obstacles in the process of local integration considering the person has spent a certain length of time, more than 5 years, and still does not have a response from the Venezuelan state. Those claiming refugee status then up suffering from lack of protection. It creates anxiety and hopelessness although they continue to live their lives in a more or less natural manner. There are submissions from Zulia, Táchira, Apure Angelica Barrera (angelica es la abogada de la Secretaria Tenica regional para los Refugiados en cargo es largo) or the capital then it is only a group of 4 to 6 people that must make a decision in regards to all these cases. Even if you would like for things to be different it cannot be done quicker because we send submissions, Zulia sends submissions, Táchira and Caracas send applications. There are many cases for such a small group to evaluate them all. Refugee Claimant Procedure before the Venezuelan State Refugee Status Claim The person must formally apply for refugee status before the National Refugee Commission or if not possible before the Regional Technical Secretary. The case is opened. The person makes a declaration under oath of the reasons for entering the country. The government's foreign affairs institution gives a Provisional Document to the Refuge Claimant which is valid until the case is decided. The National Refugee Commission notifies the applicant of their decision. If Denied If denied (quitar if denied) the claimant has 15 days to appeal the decision.® (If) Approved♪ The government issues a valid temporary ID for a year with the possibility of renewal. The Law establishes a period of 90 days for the National Refugee Comission to decide however in practice they take over a year. In many places the Venezuelans are the ones that welcome them the most. There are places where the owners of farms have given them a piece of land, Father Acacio Belandría, SJ have helped them build humble housing and this has been done by Venezuelans. By saying this I do not mean to say that their Colombian brothers have not been good to them, I just mean to say that it brings great joy to see this considering there is also a sentiment of generalized anger and discrimination towards Colombians. We are experiencing a beautiful sense of fraternity. Sometimes even here I am still afraid. I do not go out at night. Late at night I do not go out. I go from work to my home and back. There must be an emergency for me to go out at night. I will stay here. What will I do in Colombia? One lives in fear and there are those that will continue to make you fearful. One lives in a fearful state of mind. Not so long ago in Guasdualito they began to kill people openly. Who is killing them? Once they killed some people, they killed them right there next to a street vending kiosk. We had just finished work. It's difficult when you see who is killing them, how people feel when they know that any given moment they could come and get you because you were a witness and saw who killed who. And then again ones feels the exact same thing one felt in Colombia. Chimbilín, chilmbililonga, there is no shell that doesn't have it's ? The death of a man is not felt by everyone, it is only felt by his woman. Human rights have been violated in the same way as in other places but let's say that here with very special characteristics not only on by the guerrilla but also by the military, by parents, by teachers. It became a need to create an office here. It also became indispensable to create an institution to protect children and adolescents and of course it became urgent to establish the Jesuit Refugee Service here among us. I first heard through the radio that there were people willing to help those that were displaced. Beatriz Refuge Applicant- 2005 So we found out and we first of the UNHCR office. A women we knew helped us and we went to the UNHCR office. From there, they told us to go to the Jesuit Refugee Service where they assisted us with the declaration certificate. There they told us we they could not give us documents because they could only wait for the Technical Secretary Office to do it. So we went ahead directly to the Technical Secretary Office in order to get a provisional document. Almost everyone here knows me and they ask me to wash, to cook, or to carry out any other task because I work kard and I am willing to deal even with a bull, whether he's tame or angry doesn't matter; I am willing to go for it. These are the materials I work with. These are the brochures from the Ribas Educational Program that I use to prepare classes, the books, the notebooks, the facilitator's manual, basically, my manual that I always have to read. These are all the study guides for presentations and papers. After three months of being here I began working at a hair salon and the JRS supported me with about US$400 and that is how I began. From there I bought the things I needed, the basic things to begin working at the hair salon. And then they gave me a credit and with the savings I had I bought the hair salon. I also sew, paint, make purses and many other things. Firstly, we did workshops organized by JRS and now I also teach the workshops and teach weaving and stone embroidery. The work that can be done in this country with women is incredibly relevant. I see it here when they come together to carry out small workshops. These workshops on small things, on handmade crafts, is what is going to give them skills so they can provide for their families. This is important. This is going to serve as a way for them to support themselves but even more important is the role, the purpose of these women who have suffered a lot while fleeing their country, their society, and trying to reinsert themselves in another society. They carry a great amount of human baggage. Let her cry, don't comfort here, people will say you do not love her Small dove in her nest, all know she is alone. Here there is a calmer atmosphere. At least on my block, I do not have any complaints, we all take care of each other. The neighbor goes out, spends one day away, two days, and the neighbor watches out for his house. We all take care of each other while a neighbor is away. I will not return nor do I think about returning. For what? To start from cero. I prefer staying here where, thank God, I have not been mistreated. I have many friends, at least I feel I have, many of them love me a lot. Yes, starting with the people at JRS, Iris, who has been very supportive of me. And the rest of them, workmates and others from JRS have been very supportive and have given me lots of moral and economic support. Thanks to them I have slowly overcome difficulties and I am where I am right now. Much better here. One lives in heaven, eats better, lives better. You can go to places, at least for me it's great. Security is much greater because here you never hear people shooting at each other or anything like that, nor a bomb, absolutely nothing. So I definitely feel safer here. I mean, imagine, after 18 years living in Colombia a scar is there, but I have already passed that test! Well I have nothing bad to say about Venezuela. In El Nula I have been treated very well but that also depends on how you are because if you are shy or fearful and do not move foward... with three children it's difficult but if you are going to move forward from here to there and stop, you will never overcome many of these things. If one is positive you will be triumphant. These are women that have suffered being dependent, have suffered having to leave their farms, their homes, to go to another "country" where they have to make a new life for themselves. Of course men carry part of the burden but the daily and constant burden, the psychological burden is carried by the woman. Who knows how to love like a woman? Who is capable of loving these people who are at times underestimated or ostracized? It has been women who have suffered this reality since they were little. Therefore women possess certain human elements, certain humanity that cannot be explained at a theoretical level but rather must be experienced. Nancy claimed refugee status in 2002 and obtained a favorable answer from the Venezuelan state 6 years later in 2008. She is now a refugee. She lost her hair salon because of personal reasons and is now pregnant. Beatriz Beatriz claimed refugee status in the year 2006 and a year later in 2007 she received a negative answer. The Jesuit Refugee Service appealed before the State in 2007. She received again a negative answer in 2009. Argenis Claimed refugee status in the year 2006 and has not yet obtained an answer. She no longer lives in Alto Apure. Carmen Claimed refugee status in the year 2003 and was granted refugee status 6 years later in 2009. She is a community leader in her neighborhood. Lady Lady claimed refugee status in 2004 and obtained it 3 years later in 2007. She is a refugee. She finished her undergraduate degree and majored in Education. She no longer lives in Alto Apure. Nubia Claimed refugee status in the year 2001. In 2007, six years later, her applicaiton was denied. JRS Venezuela appealed before the State in 2007 and has not yet obtained an answer. Her 19 year old was murdered in 2009 for unknown reasons. Father Ignacio Ibáñez, SJ Father Ignacio was a Jesuit priest who served his community, Guasdualito, on the Colombian-Venezuela border, during the last 20 years of his life. Here he spread love, peace, education, values, leaving behind what he could have done in other places. He lived a humble and happy life as a priest and as a journalist amidst people he considered his familiy. He suffered with them the difficulties of this often forgotten part of Venezuela. Ignacio was born in Logroño, Spain, on July 7th, 1930, and died in Caracas on August 19th, 2009. Thanks to the request of the community his remains lie in the Church of El Carmen in Guasdualito, State of Apure.

Video Details

Duration: 33 minutes and 22 seconds
Country: Venezuela
Language: Spanish (Spain)
License: All rights reserved
Producer: SJR
Director: Irene
Views: 175
Posted by: curraco on Dec 20, 2009


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