Returning migrants are quarantining as in military barracks

Venezuelans coming back from Colombia and other countries are kept isolated as if they were living in military barracks, and even preventing them from talking to aid workers or journalists.

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Venezuelan migrants
National Guard roadblocks and checkpoints around the Pueblo Nuevo stadium were the returning migrants are confined. Photo by Carlos Eduardo Ramírez.

A group of Venezuelan migrants who returned to the country from Colombia and into Tachira state was mobilizing on Friday, April 10th, to two sports arenas in Pueblo Nuevo and San Cristobal. Days earlier, other groups were taken to shelters in other towns of the state.

The conditions in those migrants shelters are not the most suitable in the prevention of COVID-19 because they are overcrowded and do not receive balanced food, they reported.

El Pitazo talked to security officers who have entered both shelters, and they describe the living conditions for migrants as a military regime, also declared that they have no permission to talk with the media.

The first rule, migrants can only use their cell phones to call their relatives. Taking videos or even pictures of living conditions is forbidden.

Pics posted by the opposition show dirty flooded restrooms, and there were also reports of physical punishment for those who complain, but the veracity of this information could not be confirmed.

Everybody has a mandatory schedule for bedtime, as well as showering and other daily activities. Time in the yard is also limited. They are allowed to play sports or cards if they have them but not for as long as they want.

Although they receive the three meals of the day, the rations are small. Bread or arepas for breakfast with honey-water -a hot drink made with brown sugar, a typical Tachira drink-.

On the night of Tuesday, April 14th, they served pasta without any other food and placing rations on plates with the hands. Drinking water is in short supply, and they go up to nine hours without electricity each day.

Security officers are only allowed access to authorized personnel. Photo by Carlos Eduardo Ramirez.

Not prepare

At the Women and Children’s Comprehensive Social Assistance Point -Pasi in Spanish- makeshift rooms were set up atop the tennis playroom, and during the first days they did not have mattresses; the migrants slept on their luggage as best they could.

On Sunday, April 12th, Freddy Bernal -appointed by Maduro as protector of the state of Tachira, acknowledged that, at first, not all the Integral Social Assistance Points -the official name for the internment camps- were equipped to receive the returning Venezuelans, so there were problems for a few hours with food and beds.

No donations

Entrance is forbidden into the reclusion centers because, by orders of Bernal, nobody can enter or leave these places to avoid possible internal or external contagion.

At the Instituto Pedagogico Rural Gervasio Rubio, in the town of Junin, Venezuelans are living in even worse conditions than the migrants confined in San Cristobal. The military-style rules are no different, no one enters, no one leaves, everyone must wake up at a specific time, and can only bathe at a set time.

A man trying to bring in water or food to an interned relatives, however, he was intercepted and forced to hand over the items to state police or civilians, the only way to provide food to their relatives.

Nobody in, nobody out

It is impossible for anyone not authorized to enter these places; only security officers, health-care workers, and political leaders of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela -PSUV in Spanish- may enter with their ID.

In all four corners, Pueblo Nuevo is blocked by National Guard checkpoints. El Pitazo tried to enter and report from inside but was prevented by the Guard, with the immediate response was: only authorized people.

Tachira state media do not have access to the Integral Social Assistance Points. Photo by Carlos Eduardo Ramirez.

There is free access around the Universidad Nacional Experimental del Tachira, and to the Deportivo Tachira headquarters, but once vehicles try to access the spaces next to the Metropolitan Baseball Stadium, the GN’s barricades prevent entry.

El Pitazo requested permission from political leaders of the PSUV in San Cristobal to enter these Integral Social Assistance Points, and the response was that because they are in quarantine, and as a preventive measure, entry is not permitted.

Bernal told media at a press conference that the Pasi were located in sparsely populated areas to avoid health risks and that journalists were not allowed to enter because, by order of the Health Ministry, they would be subjected to quarantine as a preventive measure although of the 5,791 people who had entered, to date, none had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Great Escape

On April 12th, through social networks, a video broadcasted in which a group of Venezuelans, who were interned in La Fria, broke through the quarantine to escape, as they were suffering from hunger and thirst in the Pasi called Manuelita Saenz.

The citizens crossed a river to get to the avenue and there, people of the area noticed the presence, and record them with their phones, asking where they came from and why they escaped.

They answered that they had come from different Latin American countries, and had no food, water or place to sleep. As they continued to walk, they were intercepted by the National Guard and taken back to the Pasi in the zone.

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