By Steven Grattan
IPIALES, Colombia (Reuters) – Dozens of furious Venezuelan migrants fleeing economic misery in Venezuela for a new life elsewhere on Sunday defied rules requiring they hold a valid passport to cross the border from Colombia into Ecuador, and authorities appeared to be allowing it.
Hundreds of desperate people who travelled days from Venezuela, mostly by bus but some on foot, were prevented from passing the checkpoint near the southwestern town of Ipiales by a regulation set by Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno that kicked in on Saturday.
But as tension mounted in the frigid Colombian mountain town, migrants decided to risk being detained and simply walked across the ungated and loosely guarded border, having spent days in freezing conditions at the Rumichaca crossing.
“We have no money, we need to move on now and get our lives back,” said Mayerly Isaguirre, out of breath from dragging her belongings up the steep hill at the Ecuadorian border.
The primary school teacher, 37, was travelling with her boyfriend and had planned to cross legally with her Venezuelan national ID card en route to find work in Peru, where other family members successfully arrived weeks ago. But they were stopped by the new regulation.
After more than 24 hours shivering from the cold at the border, she took the chance.
“They haven’t told us anything – we are just waiting around like idiots,” she said, wheeling her fuchsia coloured suitcase across the open check point as guards looked on.
Peru’s government announced immigration measures similar to Ecuador’s on Friday, with passport requirements for Venezuelans beginning on Aug. 25. Ecuador on Sunday said children and adolescents travelling with their parents could cross without passports.
“They’re in limbo,” said Gustavo Salvador, a Red Cross Ecuador worker. “Many people who are crossing illegally are going to be hit by fines at Peru’s border, and these people don’t have money.”
Ecuador’s foreign and interior ministries declined to comment. A spokesman for Colombia’s migration office could not immediately be reached for comment.
On Sunday morning, arguments broke out between migrants – those rallying for people to move on into Ecuador in groups while others argued they should stay and do things “the right way.”
More than a million Venezuelan migrants have entered Colombia over the last 15 months, according to official estimates, but Ecuador, Peru and Brazil also have received many.
Over the last two years, especially, many Venezuelans have struggled to obtain passports amid the OPEC nation’s political and economic chaos.
This year alone, 423,000 Venezuelans have entered Ecuador through the Rumichaca border.
In Ipiales, Venezuelan migrants who said they had hitchhiked for days were huddled under blankets in tents. Exhausted and hungry, they scraped their last few pesos together to buy food.
Many like Jorge Luis Torrealba, who travelled with 12 friends and family members, including two small children, were unable to find space in the tents and were sleeping on the freezing concrete pavement.
“We are from the Caribbean, we can’t handle this cold,” he said, shivering despite wearing four t-shirts, two sweaters, two pairs of socks and two pairs of jeans.
He said is considering trekking across the border to Peru but is afraid of what would happen to his children if he is detained. “We just want to move on.”
(Editing by Helen Murphy and Dan Grebler)