A safe haven in Scotland
Des réfugiés vénézuéliens ont posé leurs valises à Aberdeen.
Depuis 2014, en raison de la grave crise économique que traverse le Vénézuela du président Nicolás Maduro, 2,3 millions d’habitants ont quitté leur pays. Nombre d’entre eux ont trouvé refuge dans les pays frontaliers d’Amérique du Sud, dont l’accès était jusqu’à présent facilité, et, dans une moindre mesure, aux Etats-Unis. Mais une petite communauté de réfugiés vénézuéliens s’est implantée là où on ne l’attendait pas...
Aberdeen, Scotland — This is an ancient city on the chilly North Sea coast of Scotland, known for its granite architecture, abundant pubs and parks, and friendly folk who speak in a lyrical, often inscrutable regional dialect. So it’s not exactly the first place you’d expect to find a thriving Venezuelan outpost. Yet, here they are. Aberdeen and other places in Scotland have quietly become a tiny oasis for refugees fleeing the social strife and economic collapse back home in Venezuela.
THE OIL INDUSTRY
2. The influx started over a decade ago, the first refugees drawn by one thing the two very different countries have in common — the oil industry. Much of Aberdeen’s economy has been tied to oil and gas production in the nearby North Sea. So when Venezuela’s state-run oil industry began struggling, a number of workers took jobs here.
3. That was the seed of small but growing community. New refugees Carlos and Nathaly Hernandez, with their two young daughters and teenage son in tow, had hoped to escape the rising chaos and crime at home by moving to Miami, a city with a booming Venezuelan population. But fearing it would be hard to live
legally long-term in the United States, they soon set their sights on Scotland instead.
4. The transition has not been easy — the food was bland, they didn’t speak English, let alone the local variant, and the weather was a shock after balmy Caracas. For Venezuelan exiles, the family’s experience will sound painfully familiar. He was a well-to-do veterinarian and farmer, she an accountant who helped run a telecommunications company. They lived in a gated mountainside community outside Caracas, put their two young daughters and teenage son in private school and took vacations to Miami and Orlando.
5. Now, Carlos pedals his rusty used bicycle to his night shift washing dishes at a restaurant. Nathaly spends her days cleaning hotel rooms. They live in a cramped apartment next to an ancient Scottish cemetery. But the young girls, 9-year-old Ana and 6-year-old Sophia, can do something they could not in crime-wracked Venezuela: play outside without fear. “The parks. The beach. … There’s no danger here, not like Venezuela, where I couldn’t even go outside and jump
to set, set, set one's sights on avoir des vues sur; ici, se tourner vers / instead à la place. 4. bland fade, insipide / let alone encore moins / balmy doux, agréable / …will sound painfully familiar … rappellera de douloureux souvenirs / well-to-do aisé / accountant comptable / to run, ran, run diriger, gérer / gated community lotissement construit comme une enclave, entièrement ceint de murs et sous surveillance permanente, sorte de ghetto urbain de luxe. 5. rusty rouillé / night shift travail, quart de nuit / dishes vaisselle / cramped exigu / crime-wracked rongé par le crime (to wrack = to rack ronger, tenailler) / around,” Ana said in a mixture of Spanish and broken English.
BEGINNING OF THE EXODUS
6. Since the late President Hugo Chavez took power in 1999, anywhere from two to four million Venezuelans have fled the country, according to estimates, most to neighboring South American countries. After nearly two decades of socialist rule, hyperinflation and economic mismanagement have led to crushing shortages of food, power and water, a dramatic rise in violent crime and continuing refugee crisis.
7. Most of the spotlight has been on the exodus to the United States and neighboring Colombia — the U.S. Agency for International Development recently announced it was giving $6 million to help feed and aid the tens of thousands crossing the border to Colombia. But many Venezuelans also have fled to Europe, where those seeking international protection there has increased by over 3,500 percent. In February alone, nearly 1,400 Venezuelans sought asylum, nearly all of them in Spain.
THE UNITED KINGDOM’S APPEAL
8. The United Kingdom has also proven a growing option. There were an estimated 22,000 Venezuelan-born people living in legally in the United Kingdom last year, according to national statistics — nearly triple the number from just five years earlier. The population in Scotland remains small. About 2,000 people of Venezuelan birth were recorded living legally in Scotland last year — but that’s double the number from a decade ago, the stats show.
9. The Hernandez family managed to weather Venezuela’s decline for longer than many others. Carlos Hernandez ran a farm raising and buying and selling pigs, cattle and chickens, which meant they never lacked for provisions even when food stocks began vanishing in the past few years. The illusion was shattered in July 2017 when eight teenage gunmen seeking money burst into Carlos Hernandez’s farm, and held him and his employees hostage for four hours.
10. The family first flew to Miami. Not wanting to live in Miami illegally, Carlos and Nathaly initially moved to Spain, but the job prospects were dim. After speaking to a friend living in Scotland, the family decided to settle in Aberdeen. The city of just under 200,000 people is situated on the Northeast coast of Scotland, often an afterthought to more prominent metro areas such as Edinburgh and Glasgow. But Aberdeen has been an important industrial hub since the 1970s, when world oil companies arrived to exploit the oil riches of the North Sea.
11. The city’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed with the oil market, but one of its booms coincided with unrest thousands of miles away. In late 2002 and 2003, Venezuela was paralyzed by a workers strike and labor slowdown at the national oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela. Opponents of Chavez hoped to force a new election, but he strengthened his grip on power by firing as many as 12,000 of the company’s 38,000 employees. Oil industry companies in Scotland, then hurting for qualified employees, began scooping up workers. Their numbers were small in Scotland, but enough that the ties attracted other Venezuelans as President Nicolas Maduro’s economic blunders plunged the country into turmoil during the past couple of years.
Venezuelan migrants walks to Lima after crossing the border from Ecuador into Peru, August 2018.