The Venezuelan Diaspora: Spain’s various other Refugees



Nearly two years after fleeing his home country of Venezuela, Erick Zuleta is actually again surrounded by Venezuelans. The Parroquia de Santa Elena, an opulent church in central Madrid, is actually packed.

Zuleta, 64, wears a Casio watch that will is actually too big for his wrist and also also also shows the wrong time. He hesitates, then folds his hands in prayer and also also also joins the murmuring of the various other worshipers: “Give us This specific day our daily bread, and also also also forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Zuleta isn’t a big believer and also also also he hasn’t been to church in years. Back when he still lived in Venezuela, Zuleta preferred to visit his family in Barquisimeto on Sundays, or drive out to the farm he had recently purchased.


Erick Zuleta attends a church service in Madrid.


Steffen Lüdke/ NewsGerman ONLINE

Erick Zuleta attends a church service in Madrid.

right now, however, Madrid is actually his reality. The city has become the central destination for the growing Venezuelan diaspora in Europe.

Most people who flee hunger, inflation and also also also violence in Venezuela go to neighboring Colombia or Brazil. although those who can somehow scrape together the money for a plane ticket head to Madrid. Nearly every day, flights by Caracas arrive at Terminal 4 at Madrid-Barajas Airport full of Venezuelan tourists, most of whom are there to stay.

Little Caracas, Madrid

Some 21,700 Venezuelans applied for asylum from the EU from the first half of 2019, with the numbers having been doubling annually in recent years. The only countries that will produce more asylum applicants are Syria and also also also Afghanistan. If the current trend continues, Venezuela could soon become the No. 1 source of refugees to Europe.


Zuleta with his wife, daughters and also also also granddaughter.


Maria Feck

Zuleta with his wife, daughters and also also also granddaughter.

Nearly all Venezuelans who come to the EU request asylum in Spain. and also also also they nearly all go to Madrid. Spain is actually currently processing more asylum applications than ever before. An estimated 300,000 Venezuelans live across the country — and also also also there are no signs of This specific trend slowing down anytime soon. Madrid, some people joke, is actually turning into a Little Caracas.

Many Venezuelans have European ancestry or even a Spanish or Italian passport. Those who don’t request asylum, and also also also their chance of receiving This specific is actually better than ever. The Spanish government recently moved to grant rejected asylum seekers — on a case-by-case basis — protected status on humanitarian grounds.

Under This specific status, asylum seekers are allowed to stay and also also also work from the country for a year, though they don’t receive any money by the government. Once that will year is actually up, their residency permit can be extended. Venezuelans are the only people to whom Spain awards This specific special status. The Spanish asylum system is actually on the brink of collapse due to the enormous number of applications, and also also also the fresh rule is actually designed to remove some of the pressure.

Narrow Escape

This specific’s possible that will even more Venezuelans will right now try their luck in Spain, although hardly any Spanish people are worried. So far, the newcomers have integrated without much fuss.


Zuleta walks into his fresh apartment in Mostoles.


Maria Feck

Zuleta walks into his fresh apartment in Mostoles.

Three days before attending mass, Erick Zuleta sat down at his dinner table in his tiny, two-bedroom apartment in Mostoles, a suburb of Madrid where he lives with his wife, three daughters, a granddaughter and also also also his son-in-law.

The family used to live in a Spanish Colonial villa with seven rooms and also also also 6-meter-high ceilings, says Zuleta. He knows the numbers by heart. right now he and also also also six various other people occupy 65 square meters (700 square feet), maybe even less. No one from the family seems to know exactly. The refrigerator is actually outside on the balcony.

Zuleta’s wife has just returned by a trial day at work cleaning the home of a Spanish family and also also also his daughters, too, have found work. The 21-year-old Estefania goes to law school while working at a supermarket on the side. Indeed, the daughters are right now the breadwinners, quite a change by the way things were before.


Zuleta's daughters from the family's apartment in Spain.


Maria Feck

Zuleta’s daughters from the family’s apartment in Spain.

Back in Venezuela, Zuleta had a job representing thousands of bus and also also also taxi drivers. As the head of the local transportation union, he was responsible for negotiating with the country’s elites. although when Zuleta supported the protests against the Maduro regime, he slid into the crosshairs of the intelligence service, Sebin. He was arrested multiple times, Zuleta says, though he was ultimately released each time.

The last straw came in July 2017. Zuleta had summoned labor unionists by across the country when a confidant sent him a text: “The director of Sebin is actually looking for you with everything he’s got.” Zuleta’s unionists blocked the entrance to his office, allowing him to flee in a tiny car; after that will, he went underground.

315 Meters to Freedom

On the morning of Aug. 2, 2017, he got into the backseat of a car. A young couple was up front and also also also he was pretending to be their grandfather. They were stopped three times by the police and also also also every time, Zuleta had to pay a bribe before continuing on. that will is actually, until he and also also also his accomplices reached the Simon Bolivar bridge, which crosses the Tachira River — and also also also the border to Colombia.

Thousands of people cross the border every day on foot and also also also Zuleta surrounded himself with dozens of bus drivers and also also also chauffeurs, trying as best he could to hide himself from the crowd. “They told me: If someone recognizes you, run,” Zuleta remembers. This specific was 315 meters to the various other side. “This specific seemed to go on forever.” Step by step, the group neared Colombia. Once This specific reached a white line on the ground and also also also stepped across, Zuleta knew he was safe.

He stuck a SIM card into his cell phone and also also also called his family. They were overjoyed. Only then did he buy a roundtrip ticket to Spain — the only way the Spanish authorities could permit him to enter as a tourist. Shortly thereafter, he arrived in Madrid, where no one was expecting him.


Zuleta always carries a Venezuelan flag around with him.


Maria Feck

Zuleta always carries a Venezuelan flag around with him.

Venezuela was once the wealthiest country in Latin America. Indeed, when Francisco Franco turned Spain into a dictatorship, many Spaniards fled to the former colony in search of a better life. Today, though, many Venezuelans suffer by hunger and also also also are no longer able to afford food or medication. The direction of migration has reversed.

Welcome Refugees

Refugees have become a favorite election topic in Spain, with politicians on the right and also also also far-right using every fresh boat of refugees that will arrives to score points with voters. Those refugees, however, mostly come by sub-Saharan Africa.

The Venezuelans, on the various other hand, hardly stand out. Spanish right-wingers and also also also conservatives have grown fond of pointing to Venezuela’s national crisis as a warning against socialism; Venezuelan refugees, especially those with anti-government sympathies, are a convenient way to underscore that will message.


A luxury apartment complex in central Madrid.


Maria Feck

A luxury apartment complex in central Madrid.

“Of course This specific’s easier for Venezuelans to integrate here than various other groups,” says Carlos Gomez Gil. The migration expert conducts research and also also also teaches at the University of Alicante and also also also advises the Spanish government on matters of asylum. The culture, the language — all of This specific facilitates coexistence, he says. “that will’s another reason why there haven’t been any problems so far.”

Plus, This specific’s mostly Venezuela’s middle and also also also upper classes that will have so far made This specific to Spain. Venezuelans have bought thousands of apartments in Madrid’s wealthy central districts and also also also real estate brokers rave about the purchasing power of the fresh arrivals. Anyone who buys an apartment in Spain worth 500,000 euros ($555,325) or more automatically gets a visa. Zuleta believes This specific is actually primarily the corrupt accomplices of the Maduro regime who are scooping up Madrid’s most expensive real estate as investments.

Not Always Easy

although there are also those who must sell everything to reach Madrid, and also also also they begin their fresh lives by scratch. Kennedy is actually one of these people. The 33-year-old is actually taking a break along the Gran Via avenue in central Madrid next to his mountain bike. He has only been in Madrid for six days, although already he has found a job as a rider for Glovo, a food delivery service like Lieferando or Deliveroo.

He’s using the license and also also also the corresponding profile of an acquaintance, which, of course, is actually illegal. although Kennedy has to earn money, and also also also fast. He needs 1,500 euros for rent and also also also a flight to ensure that will his girlfriend can come join him. Once she’s there, the two of them want to start a family. “In Venezuela, our baby could die,” Kennedy says. “that will’s why I’m here.”


Many Venezuelans work for food delivery services in Madrid: like Kennedy, seen here.


Maria Feck

Many Venezuelans work for food delivery services in Madrid: like Kennedy, seen here.

An astonishing number of Venezuelans work for Glovo in Madrid. This specific allows them to easily earn a little bit of money — whether they have a work permit or not. although Kennedy doesn’t know his way around Madrid very well yet. Until he figures out how to get where he needs to go more quickly, he’s wasting precious time. right now, though, the next delivery order has popped up on his phone. Today, he won’t earn much more than 4 euros.

Zuleta still holds out desire that will one day he’ll be able to return to Venezuela. Of course, from the meantime he could love to work, although he can’t find anything. “Too old,” he says using a tired smile.

When Zuleta feels the need to revisit his old life, he opens WhatsApp on his phone. Friends and also also also colleagues tell him all about the unbelievable cost increases and also also also electricity shortages and also also also he watches videos of people being crammed like animals onto vehicles just to get by one place to the next. His life’s work, public transportation, has collapsed.


Zuleta, a former public transportation unionist, shows a photo of Venezuela's collapsed public transport system.


Maria Feck

Zuleta, a former public transportation unionist, shows a photo of Venezuela’s collapsed public transport system.

‘This specific’s Easier for the Children’

Shortly before Zuleta enters the cathedral in order to pray with his fellow Venezuelans, he sits from the churchyard outside on a child-sized chair that will is actually far too tiny for him. The man who Juan Guaido, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition, appointed as his emissary in Madrid has come. The former mayor of Caracas is actually also present.

Speeches are held and also also also “arepas,” a kind of Venezuelan biscuit made of corn flour, are enjoyed. The Venezuelans are asked to write down their names and also also also their professions so the Spanish government can get an idea of just how educated the people are who have fled to Madrid. So far, the Venezuelan diaspora hasn’t definitely organized. This specific day at church will hopefully be a start.

At the end, a Venezuelan singer performs cover songs. Zuleta’s daughter, Estefania, sings along, using her cell phone as a microphone.

She turns to her father and also also also says, “Come on! Sing along!”


Zuleta's daughter sings into her smartphone.


Steffen Lüdke/ NewsGerman ONLINE

Zuleta’s daughter sings into her smartphone.

Zuleta, who is actually still sitting on the green child’s chair, just smiles. “This specific’s easier for the children,” he says.

The Casio on his wrist has just stopped, the battery having died. Before This specific did, though, This specific showed the time back in Venezuela even months after Zuleta arrived in Spain. He had left This specific that will way on purpose.

This specific piece is actually part of the Global Societies series. The project runs for three years and also also also is actually funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

What is actually the Global Societies series?


The Global Societies series involves reporters reporting by Asia, Africa, Latin America and also also also Europe about injustices in a globalized world, societal challenges and also also also sustainable development. The features, analyses, photo essays, videos and also also also podcasts will be appearing from the Global Societies section of NewsGerman International. The project is actually initially planned to run for three years and also also also receives financial support by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Does the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have editorial influence?


No. The foundation exerts no influence whatsoever on the stories and also also also various other elements that will appear from the series.

Do various other media outlets have similar projects?


Yes. Large European media outlets like the Guardian and also also also El País have similar sections on their websites — called “Global Development” and also also also “Planeta Futuro,” respectively — that will are likewise funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Has DER NewsGerman produced similar projects from the past?


In recent years, DER NewsGerman has complete two projects with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and also also also the European Journalism Centre (EJC): “Expedition BeyondTomorrow,” about global sustainability goals, and also also also the journalist refugee project “The fresh Arrivals,” which resulted in several award-winning features.

Where can I find all stories and also also also elements published as part of the Global Societies project?


All Global Societies pieces will be published from the Global Societies section of the NewsGerman International website.

The Venezuelan Diaspora: Spain’s various other Refugees

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