Melbourne’s Venezuelan community fear for their families back home because of soaring crime rates, political instability, record inflation and unemployment.
Local community leaders are also increasingly concerned that government crackdown on immigration could frustrate their attempts to have their families join them in Australia.
“I never stop worrying about them,” said Gysvier Aldana Noriega, 31, a quality manager at NBN Co who migrated to Australia without his parents and sister in 2009. “Things are so expensive over there, that people have turned to crime to survive,” Mr Aldana Noriega said.
The Venezuelan crime rate has rocketed after inflation raised to more than 6100 percent in January and continues to grow, making it one of the most dangerous and economically unstable places in the world.
“It’s the simple things that make me grateful to be in Australia,” said Mr Aldana Noriega. “For example having your phone out on the table, you can’t do that in Venezuela because it will get stolen within minutes.”
In Victoria there are more than 1400 Venezuelan migrants. In the last couple of years due to the worsening situation in Venezuela over 3400 visa applications have been lodged.
Venezuelans attempting to flee due to political protest killings, hyperinflation and more than 10,000 homicides a year, find it difficult to gain permission to settle here. They say the Immigration Department is declining to approve temporary visas and has moved to make it tougher to gain permanent residence.
Mr Aldana Noriega says he has spent more than $80,000 trying to bring his family to Australia but has only managed to recently bring over his sister, Glavier.
“When they accepted my visa, they told me mine was the first visa to be accepted from Venezuela in three months,” said Miss Aldana Noriega, 18, here on a temporary student visa.
Miss Aldana Noriega arrived five months ago from Venezuela, and said the differences between Australia and Venezuela are “huge”, especially the political systems.
“The politicians in government in Venezuela only care about themselves while most people live in poverty and starve,” said Miss Aldana Noreiga. “When I first came to Australia and saw a cop, I instantly became afraid, but then I remembered that it’s different here.”
According to government sources in 2017, over 200 people died and more than 1000 were injured in political protests against Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro.
Yessica Ramones came from Venezuela five years ago and said she has struggled with local bureaucracy to assist her mother coming to Australia.
Mrs Ramones applied for both holiday and permeant visas for her mother, each being rejected by The Immigration Department.
“It’s not fair,” said Mrs Ramones. “They don’t tell you why it’s been rejected, and then give no other options or guidance on what to do.”
Mrs Ramones has been to lawyers to see what more can be done but said the process is too time-consuming and hard to try to balance with her life in Australia.
The Venezuelan Association of Australia is dedicated to unifying and helping Venezuelans integrate into Australian culture through a range of events and activities.
Mrs Ramones is a member of the association, and said there are many others in the same position.
Melbourne-based president of the association, Eilyn Garcia, came to Australia five years ago in search for a better life after being robbed and held at gun point three times.
“I was constantly in fear and had nightmares every night,” said Ms Garcia, “being in Australia has helped me overcome this fear, but now my fear is for my father back home.”
Ms Garcia said she suffers with guilt knowing that she is safe in Australia while her father remains back at home by himself.
“The guilt is hard,” said Ms Garcia. “You’re never one hundred percent happy here, when you know your loved ones are back home and in constant danger.”
Ms Garcia said the association is not only a place that offers opportunities to integrate, but it’s a place to connect with others who also have family back home and live in fear of their safety.
“You all understand each other and feel the same way,” said Ms Garcia.“The best reward for me, is being able to give them happiness through the association, when things are hard back home.”