Silent challenges on the road ahead in Desaguadero, Peru
By Sonia Giannone | Español
DESAGUADERO, Peru – Daniela (11) is one of the approximately six million refugees and migrants that fled Venezuela in the last seven years. Together with her mother, father and two younger siblings, she is hoping to reach Chile where a cousin who moved there some years ago is waiting for them. Last month, Daniela embarked in a long and arduous journey. She crossed Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, mainly on foot and when lucky, on a bus or at the back of pick-up trucks. Along the thousands of kilometres, she travelled with her family, Daniela was even attacked and robbed.
All this in absolute silence. Daniela is Deaf since she was three. A series of badly cured ear infections left her with an incurable hearing loss. Refugees and migrants that, like Daniela, have to leave with disabilities are amongst the most hidden, excluded and neglected of all displaced persons.
“We didn’t have any choice”, says Daniela’s mother. “With my salary as a nurse, I was earning USD 24 per month. With this money we couldn’t buy enough food, but more importantly, we couldn’t ensure a future for our daughter who needs adequate treatment and specialised education that will help her learn like other kids”.
Despite all the challenges faces, Daniela, her siblings and parents have not been easily discouraged. Their strength and hope that once in Chile they will have a better life is unshakable. Daniela is eager to communicate and continues to poke her mother, a sort of an unofficial spokesperson of the family, to translate what she has to say. Her mother is learning the Sign Language. “We should all learn it”, she says, continuing with a rhetorical question, “why are always the weakest the ones to have to adapt to everyone else?”
Desaguadero is a small hamlet situated on an altitude of 3,800 meters above sea level, at the border between Peru and Bolivia, on the Titicaca lake, often referred to as the "highest navigable lake" in the world. The bridge over the lake connecting the two countries, which has always been a lifeline, is now closed because the Covid-19 pandemic. To cross to the Bolivian side, many embark on small boats normally used to trade goods across the border. In 2021, seven people died trying to cross Desaguadero. Daniela and her family will be going over in the next couple of days.
The Venezuelans that see in Chile their last hope are numerous. Colombia is already hosting two million refugees. There are 1.28 million Venezuelans in Peru. Chile, hosting about 500,000, is the country with the greatest number of resources, but it is not easy to integrate and find a job. Daniela’s family know this very well.
Five hundred refugees and migrants are crossing Desaguadero every day. Most of them stay in this small town just for a few hours.
“We are continuing tomorrow”, says Daniela’s mother. They arrived in Zepita, precisely in a shelter receiving refugees and migrants only a few hours before. In this house, run by Father Vicente and other volunteers, people can rest, eat, have a shower and wash their clothes. The staff of Zepita also provides useful information on the challenges on the road ahead and emergency lines to contact.
With the support of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the United States Department of State (PRM) and the European Union Humanitarian Aid, UNHCR and its partners have been increasing important services such as protection, as well as psychological assistance and orientation to the Venezuelan refugees and migrants crossing this border area.
Daniela and her family are smiling. If they are lucky in the next several days, they will get to Chile. “We want to see Daniela go to school and learn her language. We want to give her the opportunity she deserves”.