While the foreign minister addresses the U.N. nearby, Venezuelan individuals seeking asylum are putting pressure on New York City.

NEW YORK — Ysamar López stood beneath the old hotel’s canopy, exploring New York City’s unfamiliar streets on Google Maps and making a plan to set out into the rain.

The woman from Venezuela arrived the previous night after a two-day bus journey from Texas, concluding weeks of traveling by land. Unbeknownst to her, her country’s foreign minister was scheduled to give a speech at the United Nations just a few blocks away. After settling herself and her two young children in a room, ensuring they were fed and received medical attention, her current priority was to find suitable warm clothing.

“I am grateful that nothing negative has occurred, but I am currently awaiting a resolution to determine whether I will remain here or be relocated,” stated López, aged 33, while her 3-year-old son, with large green eyes and a runny nose, held onto her. “However, we are managing fine, we are doing well.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yván Gil’s speech Saturday comes only days after a U.N.-backed panel investigating human rights violations in Venezuela reported that the South American country’s government has intensified efforts to limit democratic freedoms with threats, surveillance and harassment. In his speech, Gil didn’t deny the existence of widespread hardship in his country but attributed it to U.S.-imposed sanctions.

The Roosevelt Hotel, previously a grand hotel located near Grand Central Station, now serves as a refuge for asylum-seekers and represents the city’s challenge in accommodating a large influx of migrants, primarily from Venezuela. Over the last year, more than 60,000 individuals from Venezuela have migrated to the city.

City officials have been rushing to establish additional emergency shelters to accommodate the influx of people. They have resorted to utilizing tent facilities, school gyms, and parks in order to meet the state’s mandate of providing housing for the homeless. Mayor Eric Adams has expressed growing concern, stating that the migrant crisis could potentially have devastating consequences for New York City.

PHOTOS: As foreign minister speaks at UN blocks away, Venezuelan asylum-seekers strain New York City

A complex crisis that began during the last decade has pushed millions of Venezuelans into poverty and at least 7.3 million to migrate. These days, the minimum wage paid in bolivars is the equivalent of $3.80 per month, down from $30 in April 2022, when it was last raised.

Many teachers, professors, and public workers receive the minimum wage along with additional incentives. They often resort to side jobs or financial support from family members living abroad to cover their expenses. Older retirees, on the other hand, rely solely on their pensions, which are equivalent to the minimum wage, and occasional bonuses.

In his speech, Gil mentioned that the widespread media attention given to his nation’s daily challenges is frequently misinformation with the intention of provoking “a humanitarian intervention in our country, which clearly disregards our sovereignty.”

He stated that we are encountering a fresh era of one-sided coercive actions that are even more brutal and devastating. These actions have a negative impact on the availability of vaccines, food, and other vital goods and services. Consequently, these acts can be considered genuine crimes against humanity.

The most recent report from the international fact-finding mission, consisting of three members authorized by the U.N. Human Rights Council, states that the government is progressively suppressing certain individuals in civil society. This includes politicians, labor leaders, journalists, human rights defenders, and anyone perceived as an opponent. These targeted individuals have experienced detainment, surveillance, threats, malicious campaigns, and unfair legal actions.

The most infamous institution for political prisoners is the Helicoide, in the capital Caracas. It resembles an urban version of a terraced rice paddy, with its various paved levels ascending to an Epcot-esque dome.

On Tuesday, activists in New York’s Times Square gave passers-by the opportunity to venture behind the fearsome walls of the Helicoide – more specifically a re-creation based on former detainees’ experiences. Users donned virtual reality headsets for a five-minute immersive experience of the Helicoide’s conditions; protesters wore black shirts reading “CLOSE THE TORTURE CENTERS.”

International human rights organizations have also criticized the United Nations, Nicolás Maduro’s government and the opposition for delays in establishing a much-hyped, roughly $3 billion fund to finance health, food and education programs for Venezuela’s poor. Venezuelan assets frozen because of the economic sanctions were to be funneled to the fund, which the U.N. will manage, but it is yet to materialize.

Human Rights Watch recently criticized the Maduro government for its failure to locate the frozen assets of the country abroad. They also pointed out that foreign governments and banks have been slow in releasing the identified assets. Additionally, the organization expressed disappointment with the U.N. for not initiating the establishment of the fund. The U.S. government, on the other hand, took six months to agree on protecting the humanitarian fund from creditors seeking Venezuelan funds to repay debts.

Last month, Juanita Goebertus, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, emphasized the urgency for the Maduro government, the opposition, the United Nations, and the Biden administration to promptly and openly take action in order to provide assistance to the Venezuelan people. She stated that the millions of Venezuelans facing severe humanitarian challenges cannot afford any delays.

Their struggles at home drive them to seek refuge elsewhere. An early challenge in their exodus is the perilous Darien Gap, which connects South America to Central America. Earlier this year, two U.N. groups said the number of migrants crossing through the jungle area between Colombia and Panama could soar to as many as 400,000 this year.

Many of those who make it through later find themselves at an altogether different locale: The Roosevelt. On Wednesday, Adams told local television channel NY1 that there was still time for President Joe Biden, in town for the U.N. General Assembly, to visit The Roosevelt, as a delegation of congressional representatives had done days earlier.

The president did not visit The Roosevelt when he returned to Washington. However, on Thursday, Alejandro Mayork, the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, declared that approximately 472,000 Venezuelans who had entered the country by July 31 would be granted temporary legal status. This decision aims to simplify the process of obtaining work authorization in the U.S. It fulfills a significant request from Democratic mayors and governors who are facing challenges in providing assistance to a growing number of migrants.

On Thursday, at The Roosevelt, a Venezuelan couple with a baby was leaving. They were told to go to a shelter in lower Manhattan. They wore multiple layers of clothing and carried heavy bags. The father covered the baby in the stroller with his leather jacket. The wind blew the rain sideways, even though they didn’t have umbrellas for protection.

Lopez, a recently arrived mother, was searching on her phone for a store that had been suggested by asylum workers. This store was known to have affordable coats for her children. However, before visiting the store, she wanted to check if any church had donated clothing. St. Patrick’s Cathedral was conveniently located a few blocks away, so she decided to give it a try.

“It has been nearly two months since I have been experiencing all of this,” she stated. “It was challenging, but we managed to accomplish it.”

Across the street from the St. Patrick’s Cathedral is Venezuela’s one-time consulate, now closed – the upshot of a power struggle between U.S.-backed Juan Guaidó, who declared himself Venezuela’s leader in 2019 following Maduro’s widely considered sham reelection the previous year.

The flag of the consulate is still flying outside, but it has become entangled with its pole due to neglect. One of the glass panels on the front of the building is missing and has been replaced with plywood. The remaining panels display signs that draw attention to the suffering in Venezuela, highlighting the fact that millions of people have been compelled to flee.

“They read a message stating that the situation in Venezuela has deteriorated significantly. It is advised to closely monitor the developments in Venezuela.”

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