Part 2 of Interview (Part 1 is here)
A recently established group, the Venezuelan Community in Ireland, has been launched, mainly to raise awareness and fundraise for humanitarian purposes for people in their homeland. In the future, the aim is to provide support in any area – social, cultural, and orientation – to Venezuelans here in Ireland.
We spoke to one of the members, Marianella, about why it is necessary to raise these funds for her people back home.
Back in 2014, students from Venezuela who were here were denied the grants that they had been expecting from the Venezuelan state. Some of them chose to stay in Ireland and elsewhere despite the lack of funds, and struggle on through. Can you tell us how they are today? How are you today? Tell us a little about your story.
I am a psychologist by profession, from Caracas. I came here with my partner at that time. We wanted to emigrate to Canada but we both needed to improve our language skills. So we came here to learn English. Some things changed, and I decided to stay, and he decided to leave. I did a Master’s in Business after that. I have just finished. But the situation related to the currency exchange control and to the political environment profoundly affected the international students from Venezuela. We have suffered a lot as international students more broadly, in our experiences here at schools, for example. The situation than we went through in Ireland, with the closure of language schools and third-level institutions, was another major problem for international students from everywhere. I didn’t even have the chance to start classes when my school, MEC, closed in my second year. I lost €900. I have a friend who was scammed twice.
The Irish government acted against some of these schools, denying them various kinds of funding, accreditation and endorsements that they had had in the years before the closures. They had reputations as “visa factories”, an easy way for people to come to Ireland.
But on top of that, your own student funds from Venezuela didn’t materialise.
I am not a politician. But we have grown very savvy politically now, because of our situation.
The Venezuelan government introduced a currency exchange control in 2003. That impacted deeply on students, and from a student’s perspective, you have to apply for currency to study abroad. What happened in 2014, this money that was applied for by the students, they didn’t give it to the students while they were already abroad. So let’s say, to pay the fees for the university, or to even have money to survive, it was mandatory to apply through the state. You didn’t have a choice. But the state didn’t assign the money. So people were pretty much abandoned by the Venezuelan government. If you hadn’t yet found a job while studying overseas, you were in trouble. Many students had to return home. Many more students tried to get help from other institutions, or work hours that they shouldn’t have worked [according to the rules of their student visas].
Do you feel you’re in limbo now, in a sense? Stateless?
I don’t feel stuck because I’ve been following a path here in Ireland. But many are fleeing Venezuela to Colombia, for instance; they recently began to issue permits for people from Venezuela with what could be called “like-refugee” status. The same in other countries, such as Peru. All Venezuelans feel, deep inside, they have no choice. Nobody is considering returning.
Tell us more about the Venezuelan Community in Ireland.
The Venezuelan Community in Ireland is a non- profit, non-political organisation that works towards the integration of the Venezuelans living in Ireland into Irish society and to promote the Venezuelan culture, customs, and values in the country. VCI is recently promoting activities to support people in vulnerable conditions in Venezuela to improve their living situation due to the humanitarian crisis.
We encourage all people – both in the Venezuelan community and outside it – to look further into the behaviour of the Venezuelan government. There was a recent protest in front of the US embassy, not by Venezuelans, but by socialist groups protesting American interference in and influence on Venezuelan politics. But if you asked any Venezuelans to go there, they would be unlikely to protest. We can see groups here that are strongly political and they are connected to – at least ideologically – or endorsing – the Venezuelan government. I encourage your readers to look deeper, to seek more information – not to assume the Maduro government is in the right and everyone else is in the wrong. There are many disinterested international organisations giving information on the situation in Venezuela. The UN recently released information on the human rights issues there, for example. You can get information from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The more people who know about the situation, the better.
We intend to extend our remit to providing support of all kinds to Venezuelans in Ireland, but raising awareness of these issues is the primary current reason for the existence of the Venezuelan Community in Ireland. And if anyone can support us in any way in our current humanitarian efforts, we would be very grateful.