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Venezuelans Seeking Asylum In Spain Hope To Return Home One Day


The economic and political crisis in Venezuela has forced more than 3 million people to flee. Most have gone to other Latin American countries. Many of those who could afford it have traveled to Spain, which has linguistic and cultural ties to Venezuela. But as Lucia Benavides reports from Barcelona, the welcome there has not been that warm.

LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: It's 8:00 in the morning, and the doors to Barcelona's Service Center for Immigrants are just opening. There are about a dozen people already in line, some of whom showed up as early as 4:00 a.m. One of those migrants is Javier Quintero, a Venezuelan asylum-seeker who arrived in September. He says back in his hometown of Caracas, there's virtually no medicine or food available. Sometimes there are power outages for days on end.

JAVIER QUINTERO: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: "It's not easy," he says. "Even getting to Colombia isn't easy. And to make it to Spain, you need around a thousand dollars to buy the plane ticket. That's hard for those who earn $18 a month."

QUINTERO: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: "Venezuelans don't want to migrate," Quintero tells me. "We're leaving out of necessity." Since 2015, the number of Venezuelans living in Spain has grown by almost 100,000, but only a small percentage apply for asylum, a process that can take around two years. Oriol Amoros, secretary of migration for the government of Catalonia, says Spain rejects about 70 percent of all asylum-seekers, and many Venezuelans know this but apply anyway. It gives them temporary residency and a work permit during the process.

ORIOL AMOROS: (Through interpreter) But there's still an illegal limbo because they don't know if tomorrow they'll get a response. What they do know is that in most cases that response is negative.

BENAVIDES: Right now, Venezuelans make up the majority of asylum-seekers in Spain. Amoros says many of them are high-skilled workers or students, yet because of the lack of their legal status, they often have to rely on nonprofits or the regional government for support. Thirty-eight-year-old Humberto Marino from Caracas says that was the case for him. He arrived last April and was joined by his wife and 1-year-old son in November.

HUMBERTO MARINO: (Through interpreter) When I brought her here, I thought we'd get help. But honestly, they didn't help us at all.

BENAVIDES: Marino says it took four days to find an apartment so the family had to sleep in the streets. It was a stark change from their life in Venezuela, where Marino was a successful businessman. But in 2017, he and his wife were kidnapped and held ransom for $10,000.

MARINO: (Through interpreter) That's when we decided we needed to leave the country.

BENAVIDES: The family's papers are still being processed, but Marino is hopeful they'll be granted asylum. For now, he plans to work and save money, and if things improve in Venezuela, maybe someday return. For NPR News, I'm Lucia Benavides in Barcelona. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.