Supporting migrants and agricultural workers in Peru

Supporting Venezuelan migrants

Like so much of Latin America, Peru has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite being quick to implement lockdown measures in March, the country has struggled to contain the spread of the virus. Huge inadequacies in the country’s health and social support systems have contributed to Peru recording over one million cases and 38,000 deaths from COVID-19. 

For the many people working insecurely in informal labour across Peru, remaining at home in an attempt to reduce possible virus transmission is near impossible. This is the case for many Venezuelan migrants living in Peru.

Rut Pérez Saldarriaga coordinates Renew Our World Perú as part of her work at Paz y Esperanza in Lima. Paz y Esperanza runs a program for Venezuelan migrants, providing them with education, legal and humanitarian support. This crucial work has not stopped during the pandemic.

"One of the huge concerns in our country is that so many people work on the streets in informal labor,” says Rut. “So many people work for a day, paid one day at time. So they don't have social benefits, they don't have health security - nothing. So how do they live if they are not working, or how can they afford to treat themselves if they are sick?”

Lockdown measures have hence left many with no means of supporting themselves or their families, and government support is failing to reach all in need.

“The government has worked on economic support to address the huge needs of the informal workforce,” says Rut. “At the beginning of the pandemic, they were using national resources from our central bank to support people, but as the pandemic and lockdown measures continued, these resources were completely depleted. Our new President has now asked for a loan that will take us one hundred years to repay. Despite this commitment, some of these economic supports haven’t been getting to the people in need.”

Paz y Esperanza have stepped into the gap to meet growing needs of the country’s particularly vulnerable migrant population.

“We have a lot of Venezuelan migrants here in Peru,” says Rut. “Paz y Esperanza has been working hard with them during the pandemic because so many of them don't have formal work. Most of them work on the streets selling things. So in those early days of lockdown when nobody was going out, that was a huge problem for them. They had no money to pay for rent or food. So one of the first projects Paz y Esperanza started during the pandemic was connecting migrants with churches that were already working in this space. They have been providing packages of food for people - vegetables, rice, sugar and other basic staples. And another project that has continued throughout the pandemic is the provision of educational support for migrant children living in shelters.”

Supporting agricultural workers

Throughout the pandemic, Renew Our World Perú has also been educating dozens of pastors on the importance of the country’s agricultural workers. 

“Because of the pandemic, so many people are now more aware of how important our farm workers are,” says Rut. “We are now more aware of all the work they do for all of us to ensure we have food during a crisis. We need to support them and we need to be respectful of their important work.”

Peru’s agricultural export workers have been protesting since November against a recently passed agrarian law. There have been a series of strikes denouncing the poor working conditions and mistreatment carried out by large agricultural export companies. The workers have also been fighting for an increase in their daily wage from $11 to $18 USD, but the new law only increases wages to approximately $13 USD. Throughout the protests, three workers have been reportedly killed by police.

“This new law protects big agro-exporters but doesn’t protect the workers, the little ones,” says Rut. “These people in the fields are paid $11 a day. They are in the fields from 4:00am until 5:00pm. That’s more than eight hours a day. They are not paid for those extra hours. They are not paid their social benefits. That’s not right. That's why the protests started. As a result, in December they repealed the law and we now hope they change the law for the best interests of the workers on the farms.”

Across Peru, there is an entrenched lack of respect for the country’s agricultural regions and workers. Even amongst pastors, there remains a degree of embarrassment at being born in the countryside rather than cities.

Amidst each of these threads of the country’s social fabric, Renew Our World and other organisations such as Warmis Association have started a series of educational webinars for churches in the agricultural region of Cajamarca.

“It has been really interesting exploring biblical texts and theological thinking around agriculture,” says Rut, “and also the biblical basis for respecting every person, including the ones who work for our food. Pastors and community leaders have been reexamining ideas around how God has designed everything - including the land - and how God tells us to respect and take care of all our neighbours.

“We were supposed to finish this training at the end of November, but the pastors and leaders wanted to continue! They have never talked about these topics in the church before and so they are interested in learning more. It has been really hopeful to see more churches and pastors opening their doors to listen to this new message.”

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Please join the Renew Our World family in praying for rain over agricultural regions of Peru predicted to be unseasonably dry this year. Pray for the wellbeing of Peru’s agricultural workers and for new laws that uphold their worth and dignity. Pray for a secure food supply for all Peruvians, especially its informal workers. Please pray for the country’s new government to act with compassion and wisdom in coping with COVID-19 and providing support for each person in need.

Keen to hear more of what Renew Our World is doing to support environmental defenders in Latin America? Keep your eyes peeled for the next in our series of blog pieces on Peru. 

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