MEDELLIN, Colombia—Norelia Perozo never expected to be on the streets selling lollipops so she could feed her 1-year-old baby.
But the 50,000 Colombian pesos ($17) she can make on a good day goes a lot further than the minimum wage in her home country of Venezuela.
Like the thousands of other Venezuelans who cross the border every day, Perozo, 32, fled her country—ruled by a socialist regime that has brought hyperinflation, food shortages, and soaring crime—to seek a better life in neighboring Colombia.
- A Venezuelan migrant pushes his father’s wheelchair along the road linking Cucuta and Pamplona, in Norte de Santander Department, Colombia, on Sept. 15, 2018.(Schneider Mendoza/AFP/Getty Images)
“I never imagined that I would be on the streets every day,” the mother-of-four, whose three other children are in Venezuela, told The Epoch Times. “But my family needs to eat. So I’m here every day, Monday to Sunday.”
Perozo and her daughter Arantza are just one part of the seemingly endless tragedy that is Venezuela.
The United Nations refugee agency has said that over 1.6 million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015.
Around 90 percent of those who leave the failing state go to South American countries. Others go to the United States.
- A Venezuelan migrant man and a girl at an improvised camp near the bus terminal in Bogota, Colombia, on Sept. 11, 2018. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images)
And it is by far the easiest option to settle in next-door neighbor Colombia and look for work in one of the big cities.
“They [Colombians] have been extremely helpful and friendly,” Perozo, who previously had a business that sold clothes in her city of Valencia, said from a cafe in Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city.
“Most days someone will buy me lunch and give food to my daughter.”
But Colombia is struggling with the exodus.
On Friday, Sept. 28, newly elected Colombian President Iván Duque said the migration crisis costs his country about 0.5 percent of its annual gross domestic product per year—around $1.5 billion.
In June, the Colombian government said that over 1 million Venezuelans had entered the country over the course of 14 months. It is estimated 4,000 people flood over the Venezuela–Colombia border daily.
- Venezuelan migrants look at job offers posted on a board during a job fair in Medellin, Colombia, on Sept. 27, 2018. (Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP/Getty Images)
Many who arrive are undocumented and cross the border illegally. Perozo is one of them.
After arriving at the dusty border city of Cúcuta, she faced a grueling three-day walk to the city of Medellín, where she has now been living for the past three months.
Perozo’s three other children stayed with her mother in Valencia—Venezuela’s third largest city—and she now sends back money every week so they can eat.
“I wanted to work to help my family. You cannot earn money there [in Venezuela]. If I work here, I can send money home,” she said.
“It was really hard getting here, the walk was tough with Arantza. But now we can eat, and so can our family back home.”
Perozo claims that the money she can earn in a day in Colombia can feed her family for nearly two weeks.
Fortunately, she is not one of the many Venezuelans who have been forced to work in the sex industry to get by—a situation commonly faced by her fellow citizens.
- Venezuelan migrant families at a makeshift camp alongside the Cali river in northern Cali, Colombia, on July 31, 2018. (Christian Escobarmora/AFP/Getty Images)
In crisis-stricken Venezuela, previously one of the wealthiest nations in Latin America, socialist rule under strongman Hugo Chávez, and his successor Nicolas Maduro, have seen the economy collapse.
The country now has the world’s highest inflation—with a bag of groceries costing more than the monthly minimum wage.
Many have lost weight, including Perozo, and people are becoming ill due to medicine shortages.
Crime has skyrocketed, too, and Caracas is now the most violent capital city in the world.
This has forced Venezuelans to flee the country to seek a better life elsewhere.
“If he [Maduro] and his government stays, it will just get worse,” Perozo said.
President Nicolas Maduro has remained largely indifferent to the crisis, blaming it on an economic war waged by the United States.
- A Venezuelan migrant prepares food at an improvised shelter on the side of the road between Cucuta and Pamplona, in Norte de Santander Department, Colombia, on Sept. 15, 2018. (Schneider Mendoza/AFP/Getty Images)
In late September, he made a surprise visit to the United Nations and delivered a speech at the General Assembly where he claimed the country’s crisis has been exaggerated by the media in order to topple his socialist rule.
Colombia’s Duque and U.N. chief Antonio Guterres had already agreed to set up a multilateral fund to help Colombia and other neighboring countries deal with displaced Venezuelans.
U.S. President Donald Trump also met with Duque in New York at the U.N. meeting where they discussed the situation.
Trump told reporters that what was happening in Venezuela was a “disgrace” and that he would “take care” of the country.
Colombia severed diplomatic ties with its neighbor years ago and tensions have been mounting as Venezuelan troops have crossed the border a number of times, and Maduro has accused Duque of plotting against him.
But such diplomatic quarreling is of little interest to ordinary citizens like Perozo, or the scores of other Venezuelans who can be seen selling lollipops, confectionery, or even their useless bolivar notes in Medellín’s streets.
“We just want things to be stable again,” she said.
Perozo said she doesn’t have a passport, and doesn’t think the can go back to Venezuela for two or three years. She can only keep in touch with her family in Venezuela by using WhtasApp.
“It’s been tough, but what else can we do?”