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MCC responds to needs of Venezuelan migrants

3.4. 2019 Written By: Jason Dueck for Mennonite Central Committee 272 Times read

Photo: Kiernan Wright of Orrville, Ohio, left, who served in Quito, Ecuador, through MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program in 2017/2018, helps a refugee family pack the stove they received. (Their names have been withheld for security purposes.) Wright worked with Project with Refugee People, an MCC-supported project of Quito Mennonite Church, which provides refugees with assistance, including cook stoves and food. MCC photo/Karina Brandt

After fleeing 1,243 miles from their home in Venezuela to escape political and economic turmoil, Carmen Sanchez and her family found themselves in Quito, Ecuador, without help or support until they were invited in by the Quito Mennonite Church.

“Neither my husband nor I have work,” says Sanchez. “We have three children—4 months, 10 and 13 years old. Because of our nationality, no one will hire us, or they want to pay us very low wages, and that will not even cover the rent of the two rooms in which we are living, plus the utilities and food.”

As political turmoil in Venezuela continues, and economic inflation soars past 1 million percent, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and its partners are assisting people who seek refuge and assistance.

MCC partner Quito Mennonite Church works with refugees to improve their living conditions and their well-being as they restart their lives and adapt to a new country by offering cooking supplies and food baskets, support for starting small businesses and school supplies for children. Each month, around 100 families receive assistance after a short interview to learn how their specific needs might be met.

“We hope to begin to work and to have our own business,” says Sanchez about her future goals. “That the girls could begin to study because there hasn’t been room for them yet in the schools. That my girls could be given what they need to attend school.”

Sanchez is one of an estimated 3 million Venezuelans who have fled the country in the last few years and have sought sanctuary in Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru and other countries.

Anabaptist churches in the region are unified in their commitment to receive Venezuelans with care and compassion. In late 2018, the Andean Anabaptist Encounter released a statement affirming their support for all who seek refuge.

“We understand that 3 million people do not leave their country and venture into other countries for pleasure. Venezuelan migrants have done so because of the very serious problems of lack of work, food, medicines, and income, and—in some cases—because of persecution and repression by the government. With this statement, we want to leave a message of hope from the love of God. Let us not become weary in doing good because in time we will see the benefits,” reads the statement, in part, dated Nov. 12, 2018.

“Our church partners here have a lot of experience receiving vulnerable people,” says Elizabeth Miller, MCC representative for Colombia and Ecuador. “They’ve been working with and caring for migrants, refugees and displaced people for the last two decades.”

Refugee assistance programs in Colombia’s border regions like Riohacha are seeing the highest number of Venezuelan migrants—some seeking temporary respite as they travel through to another destination, some seeking opportunities to work and send money back home, and others seeking to build a new life.

The Mennonite Church of Riohacha, an MCC partner, has opened its doors, using its facility to house 35 Venezuelans, mostly families with young children, and provide two meals a day and safe shelter. Their goal is to house these families for no longer than three months at a time, transitioning them into more permanent housing and employment.

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