“Guyana is my refuge” – Venezuelan migrant

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Venezuelan migrants Sabrina Flores and Ginacar Amaiz

By Rupa Seenaraine

Venezuelan migrants have been trickling into Guyana to seek refuge, amid the duress of significant socioeconomic and political crisis which their country is experiencing.

Settling in primarily border communities, many have sought to make the country their new home, seeking jobs in order to sustain some level of normalcy. But describing the actual gravity of this experience was Sabrina Flores, a Venezuelan migrant who fled after enduring these adversities in her home country.

In a recent engagement to celebrate World Refugee Day 2021, the engineer sought to detail her transition, noting that her daughters and parents were under emotional shock, brought on by the turmoil of having their home ravaged and being left with nothing.

“I’m a single mother. I helped my mom and my stepfather. My house in Venezuela was robbed. They dismantled it in all its entirety. As I said, when you’re a public figure, everyone knows you. They left me with nothing, practically in the streets. My mother had an emotional shock. My daughters…the change also affected them. All those experiences caused an emotional shock. You think you’re well, but you’re not so well. So, I decided to take all my savings, take them and bring my family here to start over from scratch,” the woman detailed.

Once that decision was made, they boarded a boat and would sail the Atlantic Ocean for over a week, dodging COAST GUARDS in order to land here safely. Flores said this made her feel like fugitive.

“I arrived in Guyana by boat. It took me 10 days to get here. In the crossing, we ate fish because we were also fishing. We had sun and we had rain. There were Coast Guards, and we hid so as not to be caught. We felt like fugitives or criminals. I’m an engineer, a professional who has not been asked how she felt, until today. In Venezuela, I worked for the Ministry of Communities.”

Now that she has been living here, the migrant expressed that Guyana has been a refuge for her family, where she has been given a second chance through various support systems such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).

“I’m not in Guyana to make the country where I was born and raised look bad but I’m here to be reborn. Guyana is my refuge and my home. I have met bad and good people. Like all good things, nobody said it would be easy, but I’m here. I’m grateful to God, and life because, among the people I have met are my relatives whom I did not know…To this day, I am grateful for the support and opportunities I have received,” Flores shared.

Migrants in Lethem during an engagement to the region

Speaking on her current life, it was highlighted that she has started a small business to sustain herself. However, if there was a possibility to return to Venezuela, she would.
“We are hardworking men and women, entrepreneurs, capable of facing challenges. If it were possible, we’d like to return to our country but for now, we are here and we are grateful to have found safety in Guyana. Here, I will dedicate myself to my business.

Thanks to HIAS’s support, I am able to start a small cyber-café project, where in addition to surfing the web, making copies, prints and sale of school supplies, there will be the sale of sweets and breakfast of Venezuelan tradition. On behalf of all Venezuelans who would have left the country in search of new beginnings, I would like to thank Guyana and all the countries in the region that have opened their doors to us.”

Meanwhile, Ginacar Amaiz’s story is another that emerged from the crisis situation in Guyana’s western neighbour. A teacher by profession, she noted that the transition was rough. She has been able to offer childcare services in order to survive, having recognised that migrant employment is low in some regions.

“In my personal experience, despite working as a teacher for 14 years in my country, I like many of you had to leave in search of new horizons…Currently, I have a business in which I offer childcare services to children from three to 10 years old, in which I offer dynamic classes in a fun way. For me, it is more than a business. It is a goal achieved that not only helped me in my personal growth but it has been a step that led me to obtaining self-sufficiency and economic independence in a country where employment opportunities for Venezuelans are low,” Amaiz voiced.

She opined that organisations and programmes have played a significant role in reintegrating refugees into society.

“Undoubtedly, the refugee’s life away from home is not easy. Sometimes we encounter obstacles that make the process of adaptation quite complicated. Fortunately, in each country there are organisations and institutions that watch over and protect the welfare of those people who for one reason or another have to be in the place of a refugee.”

As at 2021, documented Venezuelans in Guyana had reached 22,000. Venezuelan migrants have particularly settled in Region One (Barima-Waini) and other border communities between the two countries.