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Venezuela: without documentation, rebuilding the lives of refugees is anything but easy
20 June 2010

Without ID papers and sufficient resources, refugees frequently live very precarious lives. (Valentina Pacheco/ JRS)
I was afraid …, I had two children and was pregnant at the time….

Voices on World Refugee Day

Marcela Cruz, 41 years of age, lives in in Venezuela close to the border with Colombia.

“I used to live in Cúcuta (Colombia) until I was forced to come here after being threatened by paramilitaries. I had a brother who was demobilised (from the paramilitaries); he had stepped down and they were looking for him. For them it was easier to find me because my husband was a musician at the time. He was playing in village called, La Floresta, when they realised he was my husband. He was like a bridge to get to me. When they couldn’t find my brother, they came to my home and told me that if I didn’t hand my brother over to them, they would kill me. I was afraid …, I had two children and was pregnant at the time…. After the threats I lost the baby; then I got pregnant again and the threats continued. It wasn’t as if they threatened every day, but once or twice a week, and as I was pregnant I feared losing another baby. My husband looked for a way of leaving. He came and told a friend what was happening and his friend gave us a place to stay for a few days while we found a piece of land.

When we arrived in November 2004, the then local council provided us with a piece of land. Afterwards they evicted us, because they said they didn’t want to be involved in our problems. We found another piece of land and another, until we finally found someone willing to sell us some property.

My husband immediately began selling coffee. As I was pregnant I didn’t work. As it happened, my husband managed to get an identity card; but I didn’t. Since then I have had to struggle to get my children into school as authorities have been asking for their ID papers.

One of my children has a disability and I need to travel to Caracas; but neither my child nor I have any ID papers. Once I went to the mayor and asked for special permission, a document, anything, but he refused. He said that as my child and I were Colombians, he was unable to help us. He sent me to the governor of San Cristóbal who gave the same response. We are nothing without ID papers. In this country nobody represents us; here we are nothing.

My child, the older one, is already in the sixth year in primary school; now he should go to secondary school. He said to me: ‘mum, why should I study if they are not going to give me the documentation that proves I have studied’. If it goes on like this, his studies will be worth nothing because he will never receive any official documentation. He is de-motivated.

I have been an asylum seeker since 2005. If God wishes, I don’t think I will ever return to Colombia. It is a country in conflict, on one side due to the guerillas, on the other because of the paramilitaries, and that is when the army is not involved.

As an asylum seeker I have a temporary ID card, sometimes it is useful, but others it causes me problems because the authorities look at the stamp, the photo, and they ask for my ID card and that of my child, but on until now I have always got through”.