QUITO, ECUADOR – Ricardo Perez says he feels scared walking down the streets of Quito these days. He can’t wait to get back to his home in Venezuela. The 24-year-old migrant says he has long received dirty looks, been called names for being Venezuelan, and told to go home. Tensions hit a peak last week when he arrived to his apartment after work one night and saw all of his belongings thrown out into the street.
The next day, Perez went straight to the Venezuelan consulate to sign up for the country’s repatriation program and catch the next flight to Caracas.
‘I felt fear and frustration. I came here to work and help my family,’ Perez told New Internationalist outside the consulate, among dozens of other Venezuelans also hoping to return.
‘But things are easier in Venezuela,’ he said, adding ‘at least I have the warmth of my family there.’
Hundreds of Venezuelans rushed to the consulate last week to take advantage of the government’s repatriation plan, while others fled to Peru. This outflow began after a Venezuelan man killed his Ecuadorian girlfriend in the street one Saturday night. This prompted the government to create tighter border controls against Venezuelans and many locals responded with violence against the migrants.
Those heading back to Venezuela said they were concerned about the fragile political state of their country, but said they would rather be at home.
The tensions started on January 19th, when a man known as Yordy Rafael LG killed his girlfriend Diana Carolina Ramírez, who was three months pregnant, in the small northern city of Ibarra, Imbabura. Many say the tragedy was avoidable, since LG held his girlfriend hostage on the street for at least 90 minutes before he stabbed her, with police standing nearby. LG has since been detained.
President Lenin Moreno instantly responded to the event by announcing he would send more brigades into the streets and work places to control the Venezuelan population. increase restrictions for Venezuelans entering the country.
Human rights workers denounced Moreno’s response, which would only ‘increase xenophobia,’ said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch, in a tweet. He also warned President Moreno not to ‘propagate collective hysteria.’
Dozens of people took to the streets of Ibarra the night after the murder to hunt down Venezuelans in the name of ‘justice.’ Angry mobs chased the migrants down the streets, in some cases hitting anyone nearby, including women and children. Some groups also entered apartment buildings where they knew Venezuelans lived, stole their clothes, mattresses and other belongings and burnt them in the street.
(Photo Credit: Jonatan Rosas)