Venezuelans fleeing insecurity at home are arriving by the thousands in Ecuador after crossing through neighboring Colombia, the latest wave in one of Latin America’s largest mass population movements in history.
“Many of the Venezuelans are moving on foot in an odyssey of days and even weeks in precarious conditions,” William Spindler, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, said during a press briefing Friday.
“Many run out of resources to continue their journey,” he added, “and, left destitute, are forced to live rough in public parks and resort to begging.”
Despite the fact that Venezuela has some of the largest crude oil reserves in the world, poor financial management, corruption and dropping oil prices saw the bottom fall out of the country’s economy. The government of President Nicolas Maduro has cracked down on the opposition and centralized power, further exacerbating the problem.
Children are dying of hunger and hospitals don’t have the supplies needed to treat even the most basic ailments.
Since the start of 2018, nearly 550,000 Venezuelans have entered Ecuador through Colombian. But the flow has accelerated greatly this month, with an average of more than 4,000 people arriving at the Ecuador border every day.
In response, Ecuador declared a state of emergency in three provinces this past week. While the government has some humanitarian services at the crossings, it has struggled to deal with the volume of migrants.
Ecuador will deploy doctors and humanitarian workers during the state of emergency to help process those entering the country. The Red Cross of Ecuador is helping to assess the arrivals and provide necessities and psychological support.
In Ecuador, up to 20 percent will remain in the country and submit applications for asylum, refugee officials said. Others are expected to continue on to Peru or Chile, seeking economic opportunities.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.