Surviving the Pandemic in Peru: Venezuelan Migrants Share their Stories

When COVID-19 hit, Peru was one of the first countries in Latin America to impose strict lockdown protocols. Despite these efforts, it is one of the pandemic’s epicenters – with more than 240,000 cases, the country is one of the ten-worst hit in the world.

Among those most at risk of contracting the virus are Peru’s nearly 900,000 migrants from Venezuela. The health crisis is concentrated in Lima, where 80% of the Venezuelan migrant population in the country resides.

One in every three Venezuelan migrants has been unemployed since quarantine measures were imposed. Many have found refuge in overcrowded community shelters that have few resources to care for their residents. 

In a recent article in The Washington Post, América Arias, Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in Peru, explained that Peru’s strict containment measures for COVID-19 are untenable for migrant settlements in the country. She noted that these overcrowded settlements have a "high risk of contagion” and that conditions are ripe for mental health challenges.

Migrants face greater food insecurity and difficulty accessing water and healthcare due to inflation in food prices, loss of income and movement restrictions related to COVID-19. In addition to economic and health risks, Venezuelan migrants report that xenophobia and discrimination against them has grown exponentially in recent months.

Below, meet two women who fled Venezuela, hoping for a better life in Peru, and learn how they’re trying to cope with life in their new country amid a pandemic.

Karina Danices Núñez

Action Against Hunger's team in Lima organizes supplies for distribution.

Photo: Action Against Hunger, Peru

Karina Danices Núñez left Venezuela to find better opportunities for herself and her family. In August 2018, she arrived in Peru and now lives with her teenage daughter and nephew in a small apartment in a popular district of Lima.

In 2019, Karina attended one of Action Against Hunger’s mental health workshops and continues to rely on support from our programs. “The talks were very practical and help you live within a new culture and integrate into a new country,” she says. “I am always on the lookout for more workshops. Even my daughter and my nephew have attended the gynecology sessions and the job trainings."

Karina was a health worker in her home country, giving her a unique perspective on COVID-19: "In Venezuela, I was a lab assistant, working on samples and performing clinical tests. That's why I'm more aware of taking hygiene precautions to avoid contagion."

Despite her career in science, Karina has been working in a restaurant in Lima, which closed when the pandemic started. “I've already had 66 days without work,” she says. It's tough, especially with rent payments and groceries. I haven't had an income in two months, so I'm looking for a job to support my family."

In Peru, where three out of five families lost jobs in the first month of the pandemic, Action Against Hunger's response to COVID-19 has focused on three areas: hygiene promotion, food assistance, and livelihoods support.

"I have received two baskets of food and hygiene products,” explains Karina. “They contact me and give me a specific time to avoid long lines and crowds. You have to go with gloves and a mask, and they disinfect the place before you enter."

Venezuelan families in Peru are particularly vulnerable in this worsening health and economic crisis because they do not have access to public health services, employment or the economic support the Peruvian government provides to families in extreme poverty.

"I am very grateful to Action Against Hunger because it is the only support I have had,” says Karina. “Around here, I don't know of any other organizations that are giving help and now with the pandemic, neither does the government. The food baskets are a great support. With that, we are surviving."

Yuselvis Josefina Carmona

Action Against Hunger's team in Lima coordinate the emergency response.

Photo: Dennis Zevallos
for Action Against Hunger,

Back in Venezuela, Yuselvis Josefina Carmona worked for an electric power company. Her husband, José Rafael, was a mechanic. As life grew more difficult, they decided to move to create a better future for their children.

"One of my children has autism and a developmental disorder, and in Venezuela, everything was much more difficult because we didn’t have enough food,” explains Yuselvis. The couple has lived with their two children, ages 3 and 11, in Lima, Peru, for nearly a year.

“It is not easy for us as migrants to arrive in a country with a different culture and with discrimination,” she says. A few days after arriving in Lima, Yuselvis found Action Against Hunger and has been participating in child support and psychosocial programs ever since. “It helped me a lot to have a place to share, talk and vent. It's very difficult to leave your country, your family, work, to get to a new place and start from scratch."

Each day, Yuselvis took her son to one of our child friendly spaces, where he played games, learned from teachers and peers, and was provided with a healthy meal, while she sold empanadas on the streets of Lima to earn a living.  

The COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdown have directly affected her work and income: "Now, I can't go out to work because it's dangerous and I have no one to leave my children with.” Yuselvis suffers from hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, and diabetes – all risk factors for the coronavirus – and is very careful about avoiding potential exposure.

Action Against Hunger’s teams have adapted and continue to help Yuselvis and her family by providing food, mental health services, and educational support for children.

"My youngest son came to Peru when he was two and a half years old and knew nothing, he barely spoke,” she says. “Now he knows the vowels, he speaks much more clearly. I am grateful that, even with the pandemic, the activities have not stopped.”

These days, Action Against Hunger support teams communicate through Whatsapp and send daily videos, activities, and recommendations for parenting, encouragement, and nutrition.

“My boy does his homework every day and is learning a lot. He feels stronger and healthier now, and he's been getting sick less lately,” says Yuselvis. “[Action Against Hunger has] always given us a helping hand. I would like for more children to benefit, just as my children have benefitted, because they really need it."

Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist and leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. For 40 years, the humanitarian and development organization has been on the front lines, treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries. It served more than 21 million people in 2018 alone.