[i] Hello.

[r] Hello.

[i] What’s your name? Who are you?

[r] My name is [name]. I was born in Venezuela on August 15, 1997, more specifically in Puerto Ordaz.  My parents are [name] and [name]. I have a brother and a sister. My sister is called [name] and my brother is called [name]. I think it all started, it was in 2013, when Chavez started, when he was in power. Then the protests started, I started to go to the protests with my family, with my parents and also with my friend.

[i] In 2013?

[r] In 2013, yes.

[i] How old were you in 2013?

[r] 14 years old.

[i] Were you still in school?

[r] Yes, I was only in my 4th year.

[i] And then you went to protests with your parents, with your family?

[r] Yes, yes, I went with my parents to the protests, to the protest marches.

[i] And why did your parents protest?  What were your parents doing in Venezuela then?

[r] They were working. My father was a professor and my mother was a civil servant, she is already retired. I think they took to the streets because they already saw it coming, which many Venezuelans saw coming. Many people, but not all of them, had understood that things were not going well in the country. They protested because they wanted a better future for their families, for their children.

[i] Are you the only one currently living outside Venezuela?

[r] At the moment, my brother and sister still live in Venezuela.

[i] And how are they?

[r] Well, my sister is currently finishing her university studies, she is doing “fiscal sciences”. My brother is working on a postgraduate degree as an anaesthetist.

[i] And when you think about Venezuela, about your family? What are the most important memories you have? What do you miss most about your brother and sister and your parents?

[r] I think especially the moments that we were all together, because my family has a close relationship.  My mother has her brothers and my father too and they all come together – I think that makes us bigger as a person – always, every weekend they came together. That’s what I miss the most. Those moments when we were together, those are the things I miss, because being with them, those are memories, those are the moments that, I think, will never come back.

[i] And do you talk to them a lot?

[r] Yes, very often, I speak to them almost every day.

[i] And what did you do before you left Venezuela?

[r] I studied computer science at the university; UNEG, “Universidad Experimental de Guayana”, I stayed until the third semester and then I decided to leave the country.

[i] And why did you decide to leave the country?

[r] I especially think that …  my friend left the country and he always told me to leave the country as well. He said ‘you can’t stay here, there’s no future for what you want to do’ because that’s where an engineer often works as a guard or something. You don’t practice your profession. So my friend always told me not to think about staying there because then I wouldn’t do anything and moreover the situation in Venezuela was not safe. I took part in a protest movement at the university. I was always in a resistance movement, every time there was a protest march, I was always there and it didn’t always end well. The soldiers were there, they threw tear gas, many of my friends were imprisoned, and many were mentally and physically abused.

[i] And who were those people of the resistance movement?  How did they get together, were they all students?

[r] Yes, they were all students.

[i] And how did you decide to group together?

[r] There will always be a leader of the group, someone who motivated us because we have the same ideals, and we want something good for our country. That leader brought us together and we got along. First within the university. We made peaceful protests. For example, we put up posters and sang hymns. Always inside the university and only then also outside the university, to resist.

[i] What did those posters say, for example?  What was the group’s message?

[r] No more dictatorship, no more murder, freedom for the students, freedom for the political prisoners.

[i] Was it quiet in college?  Could you study, could you come home?

[r] No, or at least not in my situation, I was studying at the state university…. There are many people who study in private universities and they don’t have the same problems. In the state universities you don’t have a food supply. All students take the bus, but there were no more buses, there were no more professors, or at least not for my direction. There was no more professor of mathematics. And that is very important. Or programming, which is something very essential for my direction, wasn’t there either. There were professors for nothing and I couldn’t finish my semester because I couldn’t finish courses, because they always had to find professors.

[i] And why were there no more professors?

[r] Because many professors decided to leave the country or because they didn’t have the means to go to university, or at least in my case, I had professors who didn’t have the money to pay for a taxi or to take the bus so they couldn’t get to the university and so they decided to leave the university.

[i] And the private universities?

[r] Many people have the possibilities, but the same thing happens there, it’s something that happens to everyone.

[i] How would you describe the situation in your country before you left?

[r] Before I left?  Bad, terrible, I never thought the country was going to be like this, it was something. I don’t know.

[i] What do you mean by this? For example, what was a normal day?

[r] A normal day was when I went out with friends, went to college, went to college and then talked to my friends, went out with my friends without a care in the world. But now, all you could think about was: I don’t have any money, I don’t have any clothes, I don’t have that or that, I don’t have any money to study, there are no professors, I don’t have any money to pay for the courses. If I want to do that course, I don’t have the money to eat or to pay for medicine, then I don’t have the money for nothing. My grandparents are elderly people, who have high blood pressure and heart problems but there is nothing, nothing you can do. So that’s why now, every day, all Venezuelans, are always thinking, “What am I going to do now, how am I going to get there, what am I going to do?”

[i] Is it because the central government controls the drugs? Do they control everything?

[r] They control everything because there is nothing there, there is absolutely nothing there. My grandmother hasn’t been able to get her blood pressure medication for many years and my grandfather can still get his heart medication because my father has some contacts but if you don’t know anyone you can’t do anything, then you practically die.

[i] Contact with whom?

[r] Contact with someone who can get some medicine or some food.

[i] From inside or outside the country?

[r] Both.

[i] Contact with someone from the government, perhaps?

[r] Contact with someone from the government.

[i] And what do people do to survive, for example your parents, do they both work?

[r] My father is currently working, my mother is retired. However, her day now consists of queuing up to look for food to bring home and to see if any of the family members need anything from medicine or any of her acquaintances need medicine or food. She does this every day. Seeking food and trying to find things for my brothers.

[i] And where does she find the food, for example?

[r] There are not many supermarkets… Sometimes she can stand in line for 15 hours and still find nothing and then she comes back empty-handed.

[i] Queues in shops or supermarkets?

[r] Queues everywhere and often she can’t get anything. It has often happened that she is in the queue for 8 or 9 hours and when it is her turn that all the bread is gone. That can happen. That is the situation in Venezuela.

[i] And does your daddy work?

[r] My daddy is still working but he has the same worries. He also thinks constantly, what do we need, how can I get it, is there a problem with the car … there are a lot of problems.

[i] People are busy surviving day by day, and is the wage your father earns sufficient?

[r] No, his wages are very low, for example with his monthly wages you can’t buy bread or a carton of eggs, you can’t buy a kilo of cheese with it.

[i] And how do they survive?

[r] Really, I don’t know…

[i] Your parents are, I think, against the government.

[r] Yes, there are many people who survive by searching the garbage because they have no other option. There are people who practically …….. For example, my family is a middle class family but there are also people of a lower class and currently in Venezuela everyone is of the lower class. Because you have nothing, almost the only way to survive is to look in the garbage, you can do that. That is survival and there are people who survive with 1 banana a day, manioc, which is not good for your health.

[i] And the persons who support the government of Maduro, they live in a different way.

[r] Some do, some don’t. There are people who are for the government because they have their connections but there are also people who are for the government because they are convinced in their heart but in reality, I don’t know how to say this, but I don’t know how they think because they say they have it right but they live in bad circumstances. I think they have been brainwashed.

[i] And what do they think is good living?  How do they get what they need?

[r] Yes, but there is the “bachaqueo” in Venezuela. The “bachaqueo” is that you buy something but that you sell it on for double or triple the price. Many people live off that because they live off the profit of what they buy and resell.

[i] So, the student movement.

[r] Yes, that’s what we called it. The student movement and we mainly had conflicts with the people who were in favour of the government and who were inside the university. There were always arguments and fights when we wanted to put up posters or when we wanted to express our opinion, we were not allowed to do so. Me and a group of friends were threatened with a weapon and this happened at the university.

[i] Students?

[r] Yes, students. The students themselves brought weapons into the university and they threatened us because we were shouting slogans. I also saw a fight at the university because of the disagreements we had.

Sometimes I was afraid to go to college, once I was threatened with a gun, every time I saw that group of people, they shouted things back at us. So it was a constant fear and it was every day because I went to college every day. It was very difficult for me because I wanted to express myself and say my ideas, but I was afraid. That’s what happens in Venezuela, that many people are scared, afraid to speak, afraid to do something and so and I don’t know …

[i] And those students who threatened you, were those guys you knew, students from the university?

[r] Yes, I knew them, they weren’t my friends, but I knew them as fellow students, which I had talked to at times, but after that…

[i] And did they go there to study?

[r] They were also students from the university.

[i] That’s a dangerous situation, I know a lot of students were also going to protest on the streets. Did you do that, too?

[r] Yes, at least in our student movement there were days when we protested at the university but there were also days when we protested outside the university. We blocked the university so that it was not possible to enter the university, not even the professors.

There were people on the streets who died, and the university still wanted to teach. We wanted to study but, we thought, one of us, of our friend who was studying with us, was imprisoned. Three friends who were studying with me were imprisoned so why did we still have to study? I thought, “We couldn’t let them in, we had to put pressure on the government. We went to the police station to put pressure on the police. We were always there to bring them food, clothes because they didn’t get anything and they were there in a cell and many were raped or psychologically tortured. A friend of mine was tortured in a police car. She was tied to the hands on her back and her feet were also tied and they started to give her “casquillos” on the head.

[i] What is a casquillo ?

[r] Hit with a helmet on the head. She was beaten and told not to speak out and they said that if she didn’t keep quiet that they were going to rape her, they would stick their fingers in her and stuff like that. She was tortured.

[i] And they were arrested for protesting in the street?

[r] Yes, they were protesting on the street and she was arrested outside the university. She was taken away without reason, without anything, she was only arrested because she was a student together with many friends of mine. I could have been one of them, if you were walking you could have been arrested if they thought you were a student and they wanted to catch you to put you in prison.

[i] And those people who were arrested, were they then released again?

[r] Yes, they were released by the way because they had to report to the police station every week so they knew they were in the country. They could not flee the country, they were forbidden to do so because they had to come to the police station every time.

[i] And with all these risks, did the students keep protesting?

[r] Yes, because many people believe that Venezuela is going to be a free country and they want to keep shouting out their ideals and they want to show everyone, both in Venezuela and in the rest of the world, what is happening in Venezuela.

[i] But that is not visible.

[r] That is indeed not visible but we want it to be known what is happening in Venezuela because what is happening there is something that concerns everyone because we are human beings. It is not because there is no war that we do not suffer because we do, for example there are many babies there who die of malnutrition, the mothers leave their children behind when they are born because they have nothing to feed them. They don’t find milk and if they can get it, it’s very expensive, and they don’t have the money to buy it, and they leave the babies in a cardboard box. The elderly are also very malnourished because their pensions are not enough to buy things, there is nothing, they are dying.

[i] And the people who fled on foot? For example, the people you see crossing the border with Colombia, on foot.

[r] Those people take great risks, there are many problems at the borders, there are gangs. There are many risks for the Venezuelans there and on every highway there are people who will rob you, always.

[i] And you, when did you run away and how? What did you have to do to escape and what was your route?

[r] I fled because my friend decided to take me out of the country because he was realizing that I was engaging too much in the protest movement and that I was at great risk. I know that…because…I didn’t think it was important anymore whether I was still studying or not, whether I should go to university or not. All I always thought about was going to protest, to help my friends who were in prison. Bringing them food, that’s what I’ve been doing all day. My friend told me that it was the moment I came to Belgium. He was already in Belgium and I agreed. I thought it was a good opportunity for me, I also accepted because I saw that I was losing time, I wanted to do something with my life. That’s why I decided to come, my friend bought me my ticket and that’s why I’m here now, because with the wages I earned there I couldn’t possibly buy a ticket.

[i] What did you need to leave the country? Can people just leave the country ?  Without a problem?

[r] You need all your documents, your birth certificate, your papers from the school, from the university, but it is all very difficult to get hold of. I had to go to another village to pick up my birth certificate, My high school credits, I had to wait more than three months to get it eventually. I spent about a month traveling around just to get my birth certificate, something that’s mine, something that’s my right. I would have to wait another three months to finally get it. They wouldn’t give me my university points, no official points, there was nothing I could do. The government, so to speak, does not want to do this. The director is chavista (supporter of Chavez), she is a supporter of the government, so she didn’t give anything to anyone.

[i] And your passport? Did you already have a passport ? Or did you have to get a new one?

[r] Luckily I already had a passport but most Venezuelans don’t have one. I still had a valid passport when my friend decided to buy me a plane ticket. However, most of them don’t have a passport and have to pay to get it. And you have to wait many months to get an answer to know if they accept you or not, and then many more months until they really give you one. And the cost of the passport is also very high.

[i] So, you had a ticket and a valid passport. Did you need a visa to travel?

[r] Not to come to Belgium, but I needed a permission or something that I was going to stay in a hotel or with an invitation letter.

[i] So, you already had a plane ticket, a passport and an invitation, so you could come ?

[r] Yes, indeed, I could already come.

[i] And how was that moment, how do you remember it?

[r] It was something frustrating, it was the first time I travelled alone. It was really frustrating. It was the first time I travelled alone and the military wouldn’t let me out of the country because I was a student, they saw of course that I was a student. A young woman, a woman who left the country, they wanted to ask me for something in exchange, money, because they took me back from the plane and everything.

[i] Did they get you back from the plane? You alone?

[r] Yes, they only took me out and they took me to where the luggage is being loaded and they had me open all my luggage, everything in the luggage, no matter if it was old or new. Nothing mattered to them, I had to empty all my suitcase and they checked everything.

[i] What were they looking for?

[r] Honestly, I’d say they were looking for things of value. Things they could steal, things they could ask of you. That’s how they are. They say “give me that and let’s leave it that way” or eat, they say that food is not allowed and they take away the food although it is allowed. It’s true. They asked me for money. I traveled with 300 dollars, not even euros because you can’t touch them in Venezuela. They wanted to take everything from me, they wanted to “ask me for money for a drink” as they say in Venezuela and that was very frustrating because I couldn’t lose that money I had.

[i] And what did you do? What did you tell them?

[r] I pretended to have nothing and how was I going to eat? I wasn’t going to arrive directly in Belgium but first I was going to stay in the airport for a few days, what was I going to eat and drink? I was not going to have anything to eat or drink. I said I had nothing, that I couldn’t give them anything.

[i] And they let you through, didn’t they?

[r] Yes, I was very lucky because many Venezuelans cannot leave without having to give something, many have to give everything, even their food they have to give. They rob them of everything. Those Venezuelans who leave are robbed and those who arrive in Venezuela are robbed as well.

[i] Who dropped you off at the airport? How was the farewell with your family?

[r] My father, it was difficult, I think it’s the first time I left my parents, it’s a horrible feeling, more than anything, I’m sorry, because I’m not the only one who goes through it, because many Venezuelans and especially young people, my age, go through it, because they have to go to another country, look for a future for them and that your family stays there and that they live, how they live, it’s hard.  The fact that they are all going through all this and that you are good here, gives a bit of remorse, it’s a bit of a strange feeling.

[i] And what are your parents’ plans?

[r] My parents can’t decide much because my grandparents live there and they think of my grandparents, they don’t want to leave my grandparents alone, they are very old and don’t want to leave, they don’t want to leave because they are old, so they want to stay there.

[i] How old are your grandparents?

[r] My grandfather 84 and my grandmother 88, I think.

[i] And your brothers?

[r] My sister, I have a sister and a brother, my sister is studying tax sciences, she wants to finish her studies first, and is almost finished, she wants to finish her studies so she can leave Venezuela with a diploma, it is difficult to get a diploma in a country that is not yours. What happens is that there are many strikes, she is studying at the same university as me, that is a public university, there are always strikes and if there are no strikes, there are no professors, there is nothing, as I told you before and it is very difficult to finish your studies. She’s in the final stages and letting everything go to waste, which is very difficult. The same thing happens to my brother, my brother is following a postgraduate degree in anaesthesiology, is also completing this and does not want to let it go to waste. That’s what’s stopping them.

[i] Do they have to study for a long time ?

[r] Not much, my sister less than a year old and my brother too, it’s not much, but the situation in the country doesn’t allow them to end it. There are many students who simply leave their studies to work, sometimes they don’t have enough money to pay for their studies, they don’t have how to go to college, they have nothing.

[i] And when they’re done, can they work with their diplomas in Venezuela?

[r] I don’t think so, it’s not that easy to work there, maybe you can work there, but the salary will be insufficient, they would do something they like, but economically it’s useless.

[i] And your friends? Do you still have contacts with your friends?

[r] Yes, all my friends are scattered all over the world.

[i] For example?

[r] Spain, Ecuador, Mexico, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Argentina. In Argentina there are a lot of Venezuelans, in Europe I have a lot of friends, in Germany a lot.

[i] And have you seen one yet?

[r] Yes, I had the chance to see a friend, but not for long, she lives in Spain and she found out that I came here to live and she came to visit me for a few days, nothing more.

[i] And when you were on that plane and said “well, I’m going to Belgium”, what did you think, what did you think, what does a girl of your age feel when she leaves her family and comes here?

[r] Well, the truth is, it was something totally new for me, I already knew that I had to learn a new language, get to know new customs. In Venezuela everything is totally different, here everything is new. Here everything is done by appointment, there is no need for that in Venezuela, one just arrives at something. That is very difficult, very difficult, especially for those who speak Spanish, the language.The accent, pronunciation, everything is very difficult, but I was looking for something better and good, I decided to live here.

[i] Your flight was a direct flight?

[r] No, no, no, my flight, first went to Colombia to Bogota, then to Medellin and then from Medellin to Spain.  In Spain they would not let me in, they wanted proof from my boyfriend that someone would receive me in Belgium, I gave it to them and they let me in, then I arrived in Brussels and then I came to Antwerp.

[i] The Bogota route, Medellin, was that for some reason? Why did you have to make so many changes?

[r] Because the flight was cheaper.

[i] Okay, was it the same ticket?

[r] With the same ticket, and it was cheaper.

[i] Which airline was it, remember?

[r] Avianca

[i] To Madrid?

[r] To Madrid, Avianca has left Venezuela, 2 weeks after my trip I heard that they wouldn’t do any more flights. I was lucky, because many Venezuelans stayed behind with the ticket in their hands.

[i] You were very lucky, do you remember the day, the date?

[r] July 13th exactly, July 14th 2017.

[i] How long had it been since you saw your boyfriend?

[r] A year, a year I didn’t see him, exactly, it was very complicated, we got engaged when we were 15 years old, we were friends, we were companions, he studied in a different school than mine, we never thought we would come here and here we are.

[i] I mean, you’ve been lucky to come here and have someone to receive you.

[r] Yes, indeed, I was lucky, his family helped me a lot, everyone, it was a great opportunity for me, I don’t abuse it, I’m very grateful for it.

[i] What about the first impressions of Antwerp?

[r] Very well, I liked it, because I arrived in the summer, then I loved everything, I liked the idea that I could go anywhere by bike, I didn’t have the feeling that I would be killed, that if I went outside, they would kill me, because in Venezuela, when you go out on the street with a mobile phone in your hand or something like that ….. Then it is 100% certain that someone will rob you.

[i] Delinquency?

[r] Delinquency, I don’t have that feeling here. I didn’t have that feeling that I felt free in Venezuela.

[i] Have you applied for asylum?

[r] I have applied for asylum

[i] And how did the process go? When you arrived, you had to go to the town hall.

[r] I wasn’t going to apply for asylum, but I did, I saw it was the most viable option.  First I went to an association called Caritas, I told them my situation, they informed me and gave me different options to get my papers, they helped me a lot.  I went to the Foreigners Office in Brussels very early, I stood in line until the doors opened and then they started doing all the procedures, they took our fingerprints, our names, everything.

[i] What did they tell you afterwards, what did they tell you?

Well, I’m still waiting for an answer, I hope it’s positive, they did a short interview with me, I told them about my situation and they told me to wait until they send me a new letter, for a new interview, go to that interview and then they’ll decide whether I’ll be accepted or not.

[i] And that second interview, haven’t you had to do it yet?

[r] I haven’t had it yet, I’m waiting.

[i] And the first interview was with an interpreter, a translator?

[r] If I’m not mistaken, with a Spaniard because he spoke Spanish, the Spaniard was an interpreter and the person who recorded my details was a person from here.

[i] And you felt comfortable in the whole process?

[r] Yes, I felt very comfortable, I expressed myself well, I could speak as I wanted and they listened to me, they asked me a lot of questions.

[i] And besides Caritas, are there other people, other organizations that helped you besides your family here in Belgium?

[r] I don’t know any, nothing else on my part but Caritas, it was where I was guided and informed.

[i] They still guide you so far?

[r] Yes, they continue to help me, they continue to guide me.

[i] How has your life been from that moment until now? What have you done?

[r] It was a superdrastic change in my life, the hour was different, I have to learn a new language, go out on the street, talking to people is very difficult for me, meeting people is difficult because I don’t speak their language, it’s difficult to get the Belgians,  approaching is super difficult.

[i] You mean make Belgian friends?

[r] Yes, it’s really hard.

[i] But do you know Belgians?

[r] Yes.

[i] Where?

[r] In my job, I’m always with the Belgians.

[i] And where do you work?

[r] I work at Burger King on the Meir, where I spend all day with Belgians, even if it is a bit difficult, there are people who are very friendly, who want to talk to you, they want to talk to you for a while, but there are others who are very closed, it is very difficult.

[i] How long have you been working there?

[r] Three weeks.

[i] And was it easy to get the job? What did you do before you found the job?

[r] I am currently studying Dutch, I am still studying Dutch, I have arrived and when I applied for asylum, I was told that I had the chance to study Dutch and I am studying in Encora.  My boyfriend saw a publication on the internet for staff for the new Burger King that would open on the Meir. At first I was afraid because I was only on level 1.2 of Dutch and thought that I would not be accepted. I spoke with my mother, she told me to try, so I sent an e-mail and they answered me.

[i] That friend of yours, he’s an angel, isn’t he?

[r] I contacted them and they told me that they wanted to do a job interview, something that made a big impression on me, because I didn’t know what I was going to say, how shall I put it, I practiced the interview that day, the possible questions they could ask me… I went to the job interview that day and had the interview with a man, of course everything was in Dutch, I went as they say I went as they say “the loca”, “like a madwoman” and everything went well.

[i] And when they told you that you had the job?

[r] I was happy, because it is my first permanent job and outside my country, it is something very important, I am lucky to have found this.

[i] Yes, congratulations.

[r] Thank you. [Giggles]

[i] How do you see your life in three months? How do you see yourself in Antwerp in the short term?

[r] I would say that I am still studying Dutch because it is a very difficult language, and I will continue to work, I want to succeed in Belgium. I want to study at the university, to resume the study of computer technology that I did in Venezuela, or any other career. Then I will look to the future.

[i] Are you satisfied?

[r] Yes, because I feel like I can move forward and help my family.

[i] What customs do you maintain? What were you doing in Venezuela and can you still do in Belgium?

[r] Not much…… go out with my friends, I have some friends in Belgium……. it is very different than in Venezuela. They have different habits, a different language, it’s very different, but the family meetings with my boyfriend’s family, that’s something we did quite a lot and we still do it here.

[i] What are you preparing? Venezuelan dishes?

[r] My friend’s father really loves the grill. We do it when we can.  My friend loves hamburgers very much.

[i] Who?

[r] My friend

[i] He’ll come to visit you a lot at work.

[r] (laughs) Indeed ….. and he eats a lot too.

[i] And the music?

[r] Bon, the music here is very…. how should I put it ….. music of the eighties.

[i] Ah so ….. super beautiful.

[r] Indeed ……  in Venezuela it is more recent music , here it is more …

[i] Retro

[r] Yes, but there are very nice places to go and listen to music, very nice.

[i] Thank you very much, [name]

[r] It was a pleasure.