Bonus track + Rebirth

From Venezuela to Argentina, holding onto one single toy

How Venezuelan Children Migrate, Arrive and Integrate in Argentina. 

There are over 7,308 kilometers separating Claudia Gil from the city where she used to go on vacation with her grandparents. Two years ago, she left the tropical warmth and traded it for a city that, like its weather, is rumored to never give a break to those who face winter for the first time in a country at the end of the world.

Claudia is 15 and has been living in Buenos Aires for the past two years. Her family arrived from Caracas a year before her, due to one of her sister’s illness. Now, Claudia lives with her parents and siblings in a small apartment in Balvanera. Despite her shyness, she has been able to make new friends in Argentina, however, a part of her still remains in Venezuela, where her grandfather and some of her friends still live. She wasn’t even able to take with her the souvenirs they gave her on her last day in the country.

This teenage girl is one of the four million Venezuelans who continue their lives outside their country, forced to migrate due to the social-political crisis of the past years. This displacement has had no precedent in Latin America.
“Our region has not been through a similar situation, not of this magnitude. We are talking about four million Venezuelans out of their country,” says Analía Kim, Public Information Associate for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in South America.

An immigrant is a person who voluntarily moves to another country, while a refugee is someone who is forced to move. When it comes to Venezuela, the limits become more blurry each time. The 1951 Refugee Statute Convention applies to certain Venezuelans in a situation of risk, and, according to the expanded definition of refugee defined in the Cartagena Declaration to Latin America, most Venezuelans are in need of international protection. They fled their home country because their life, freedom or their security are at risk of being violated. Although many Venezuelans meet the requirements to apply for asylum in other countries and be recognized as refugees, they go a different direction and use other ways of formalizing their residence in other countries. This way, they are able to access work and social services, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR.)

Out of four million people who left the country, only 600,000 Venezuelans formally applied for asylum in foreign countries, most of them in South America, according to the August 2019 UNHCR data.

Every day, thousands of families flee Venezuela. Argentina is the fifth most chosen country by Venezuelans to start a new life and work, according to UNHCR. According to official data obtained by the National Direction of Argentinian Migrations, between 2009 and 2018 130,820 people arrived, out of which 53.91% arrived in the country only last year. Although children and young people have also been affected by this phenomenon, there is still not enough data to support this.

Children and young people are central actors in many immigration processes. Out of the 70.8 million in the world who have been people forced to leave their countries, almost half of the are under 18. However, we vaguely hear their voices. It is common to hear about the immigration of adults but rarely about the migration of children.
To understand the experience of migrating and integrating into a new country during childhood and young people we interviewed Dylan García, 5, Sara Castillo, 7, Samuel Castillo 12, and Claudia, 15, and their mothers. These are their stories.

The journey

“I was very scared,” says Sara before telling how she got caught between tear bombs next to her 12-year-brother, Samuel. This happened close to the Puerto La Cruz shopping center, in the Anozátegui neighborhood of Caracas, where they spent their second to last day in Venezuela.

Sara left from Caracas to Puerto La Cruz with her brother and parents. From there, they left for San Pablo, Brazil. This is where they finished their journey by bus and got on a plane that would take them to Brasilia. Samuel found the journey entertaining, he even speaks enthusiastically about the day the saw the Iguazu Waterfalls, before taking a bus to Buenos Aires. However, behind every story are the tired shoulders of a mother who had to maintain a fantasy for five seemingly eternal days. 

“I told my children that we were going backpacking, that we would enjoy the trip, see other countries. I didn’t want it to be traumatic. They enjoyed the world while I was dying inside. All I could do was pray,” says Maria Teresa Naranjo, mother to Sara and Samuel. “When we arrived here I broke down,” she says in tears, assuring it was the worst experience of her life. By “here” she means Buenos Aires, where they met with her husband and it all seemed worth it.

The arrival

To Claudia, who spent almost a year in Venezuela while her parents were in Buenos Aires, arriving meant seeing her family again. When after a long journey she could finally sit down and have dinner with her family, she saw from a distance that her mother was cooking and could only think: “I can’t believe I’m seeing her, that I’m here with her.”

Arriving in Argentina also meant being impressed by simple things. “There was a car at an outside bus station and I only thought, aren’t they going to steal it?” says Samuel. Having lived in Venezuela, they were impressed by the most simple things, like clean streets or seeing people walking in the middle of the night in Buenos Aires. 

In June 2018, Venezuela was named the most dangerous country to live in, for the second year in a row, according to the Global Law and Order Survey from Gallup. The year closed with a homicide rate of 81.4 for every 100,000 which came up to a total of 23.047 homicides, according to data from the Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia

To Cecilia Castro, Dylan’s mother, arriving meant finding peace. She will always be thankful to Argentina because the country opened its doors and gave them an opportunity to start again, she says.


While many adults find it difficult to adapt to a place different to the one they have spent their whole lives in, for children, the doors to a new life are only a “hello” away.

“Obviously there are particular cases, but they generally adapt and have a different attitude towards these sudden changes. There are even cases where it is the children who can support the adults,” explains Kim.

For the children and young people although integrating was hard at the beginning, eventually, it became easier. “At first you feel that you have to start from zero. Make new friends start a new school, and I thought that was going to be very hard for me. Doing all of that was difficult to me,” says Claudia. “During my first day of school I thought no one was going to speak to me but a girl approached me and I started talking. That’s how I made friends.”

The interviewees all agree that their Argentinian classmates were very supportive from the begging, however, it was inevitable to perceive a cultural clash. They agree alongside their mothers that this is because, in Venezuela, children tend to be more sociable and extroverted that their Argentinian classmates, 

Sara is a smart and talkative girl. She is not afraid to speak her mind. Her restless feet are the only trait that evidences her nervousness, but she hides that behind a charming, almost theatrical, personality that gives you the feeling that she could be friends with anyone. She, was scared on her first day like everyone else, but a short while later she began making friends.

Her brother Samuel, who from first impressions seems quiet, has no social difficulties. Studious and perfectionist, he is also noble when it comes to helping others. His mother says that although he seems quiet he is actually just very observant: he thinks his questions through and answers them like an adult. It is due to this personality that not only was he recognized as the best student once, and twice, as the best classmate. 

“The teachers always asked me what textbooks they used in Venezuela because they were impressed about how much math he knew,” says María Teresa Narano, Samuel’s mother. “Many moms would text me so that Samuel would study with his classmates, I think this is why he was chosen best classmate.”

Language is also an opportunity to learn from others in the classroom: Venezuelan children learn how to say the famous “che” while Argentinian children learn how to say “cónchale.” Although they speak the same language, words and meanings vary from country to country. Language also moves with immigration. The interviewees share how at first they couldn’t understand anything and how their classmates couldn’t understand them. Now, they have even incorporated Venezuelan words. “If they don’t understand me I have to explain it. Or they try to imitate me. The good thing is here you feel included, they don’t push you aside,” says Claudia.

Children also find ways to deal with immigration. After arriving to Argentina, Dylan, talkative and energetic, found in art his hobby and passion. He enthusiastically speaks about his drawings, showing each of them proudly and telling the stories they represent. Many of them deal with games and characters, although some are about the toys he had to leave behind in Venezuela. The colorful world of this artist in progress leaves no room for the sadness of nostalgia. 

Micaela Farfan, an Argentinian babysitter who has been taking care of Dylan since he arrived in the country, admits that at first, it was difficult to understand each other. As a result, she began writing down the words they didn’t know in a notebook. Now, two years later, Dylan and Micaela understand each other perfectly and she reminisces this episode as an adventure in the process of mutual adaptation.

“As Argentinians, we tend to be more distant. From Venezuelans, I learned more than new words, I also learned new ways to get along as people,” she explains. In regards to people who complain about the arrival of immigrants, she says: “Some people aren’t willing to flow, they are not open to get to know others. We are very different cultures, but we are still people, with different ways of speaking or interacting. I’ve learned a lot from them.”

What they miss the most

Dylan arrived in Buenos Aires when he was only three. His mother, Cecilia, has said it would only be for a vacation. Although she thought that the new memories would quickly replace the old, Dylan still remembers his blue bedroom in Caracas with Spiderman sheets.

Nostalgia takes the shape of dolls, toys, board games. Picking objects that could go with them on the journey was a letting go exercise for the people we interviewed. Although missing their own space in a new context may be temporary, the absence of familiar faces is permanent. “Every time we video called the family he asked, why are we here if everyone else is there?” says Cecilia.

It is also hard to see how those who stayed now suffer the consequences of the crisis in the South American country. “It’s very sad to see what is happening and what will continue to happen in Venezuela when your family is there and you can’t do anything about it,” says Claudia.

Both children and adults sometimes find it difficult to get used to a new home and new socioeconomic bearings in the midst of uncertain circumstances. Many of them went from private to public schools, from traveling by car to using public transport, from having their own room to sharing a modest apartment with other three of four people, at least until the family’s economic circumstances improve. As Nadiezka López, Claudia’s mother, explains: “fortunately children are able not to get too attached to material things.”

Upon arrival, the mothers and fathers, who have the economic pressure on their shoulders, must take any job in order to support their children. 45,26% of Venezuelan migrants have a university degree or technical diploma, but only 12,24% of them work in their profession, according to a survey by Adecco

Why did they leave

To some Venezuelan migrants, their new country isn’t home but exile. They anxiously wait in silence for their country’s conditions to improve. However, if there’s something the mothers interviewed agree with is that they don’t look back when it comes to their children. “I am more afraid of something happening to them than my own wellbeing” explains Nadiezka.

Although she knows that life is not the same, Nadiezka affirms with conviction that she will not return to Venezuela: she is not willing to go through the same uprooting. “It’s very hard to listen to a nine-year-old say ‘we don’t want a party, we just want to go. Let’s go, there’s no future here’,” she remembers with a trembling voice. 

Maria Teresa feels fractured; she never imagined herself living outside her country. It was the desperation of not being able to satisfy her children’s most basic needs that brought her to move miles away from home. “I had to stand in line for hours to buy bread. I don’t want them to have that childhood of deprivation, not being able to get them ice cream if they wanted one.”

María Teresa's family left behind a scenario of cumulative inflation of 1,579.2%, in July, according to the Finance Commission of the National Assembly, in which basic food is scarce or resold at absurdly high prices because the minimum wage is around five dollars a month and at least 328 dollars are needed to buy the products of the basic basket, according to the Documentation and Analysis Center for Workers.

Now, the children are growing and making a life in Argentina, which is why returning becomes all the more complicated, the mothers say. “The tranquility of knowing that if my children get sick I’ll know where to take them and have medicine to cure him, that I can go out on the street by myself, is priceless,” adds Cecilia. For her, returning is not an option for now, either. She is afraid of knowing that the life of her son could be at risk for something as simple as tonsillitis. Over 20,000 Venezuelan doctors have left the country, according to the last National Hospital Survey, and the shortage of medicines, health supplies and shortage of basic services in the centers, The later has even caused the Ministry of Health to stop publishing official figures since 2016.

“Perhaps he’ll decide to return later, but it has to be another Venezuela. For now, that idea scares me much more than him being here. He misses our country, I miss it, but it’s all for his well being. I’ll always be grateful to this country,” adds Cecilia.

Argentina has always opened its doors to immigrants. However, like many Venezuelans, Nadiezka fears that the migration policies will become more strict. This happened in Panama in October 2017 and Chile, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Aruba, in 2019 when they began requesting entry visas from Venezuelans. Given these measures, in May UNHCR reiterated its call to the states to allow Venezuelans access to their territory.

Migration presents opportunities and challenges for societies and people, including children and adolescents. Although they immigrate with their family, children must face an uncertain economic future, possible discrimination, and social and cultural dislocation, according to a UNICEF report. However, they emphasize that this should not necessarily be this way,  although the process of migrating is a challenge, it is also an opportunity to grow, prosper and contribute positively to the places where they arrive.

The stories from the children and their mothers reflect a part of the enormous contradiction that comes with the complexity of immigration. Challenges, opportunities, excitement for the new, and the longing for what has been left behind.

In spite of the fact Samuel and Claudia feel nostalgia, they know the city that they miss no longer exists. “When things get better I would love to return and see all of my friends. Although it will obviously not be the same because many of my friends will have left or I will have broken ties with them, it is very difficult,” admits Claudia with sadness. Samuel agrees: “Returning would be complicated. I feel happy here, even if I miss everything. ”


Carla Betancourt

Twitter @cbetancourt 

Ivanna Méndez
Twitter @ivannamendezm 

Agustina Ramos
Twitter @agusramona19 

Diana Agustina Fernández
Twitter @dianaagustinaf 

Daniela Morales
Twitter @damoralesdiaz 

Belén Arce Terceros / Mentor
Twitter @beluarce

 Sofía Cerda Campero / Traducción

Este reportaje fue realizado durante el Mediatón #EnResistencia que Chicas Poderosas hizo en Argentina en julio de 2019. Más de 100 mujeres que trabajan en medios se reunieron para crear proyectos colaborativos multimedia, con el apoyo de Google News Initiative. Para ver los otros 12 proyectos creados en la Mediatón #EnResistencia, visita