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Crouched on the steps of a statue and surrounded by grubby motels, fast-food restaurants and bars, Andrea and Carolina say they fled Venezuela to escape hunger. About , Venezuelans have crossed into neighboring Colombia alone, both legally and illegally, since , according to Colombian authorities. For some, sex work is their final, desperate option. A third of that is spent on a motel room to take clients to, as well as condoms, food and daily rent for a room shared with four other women.
Carolina said the monthly minimum salary in Venezuela only covers the cost of one kg of rice or a carton of eggs. No one knows how many Venezuelan sex workers are now in Cucuta, a city of , people. On any given night, up to 20 can be seen in each of the three main central squares.
They share the squares and streets with other Venezuelans who peddle sweets, coffee and cigarettes for small change. Some migrants beg with babies in their arms, while others sift through rubbish bags and rely on the kindness of local residents and church-run soup kitchens for a hot meal. Venezuelans tend to charge less than their Colombian counterparts who are more likely to be found working in bars than on sidewalks, while teenagers can earn more than adults, Carolina said.
Andrea and Carolina say they are voluntarily working on their own, without a pimp. Other migrants try to find work as cleaners and street vendors, rather than turning to the sex trade. About 40, Venezuelans were crossing the border each month by late , according to Colombian authorities. Many walk over a crowded bridge that connects Cucuta with Venezuela, lugging suitcases and plastic bags, and pushing elderly relatives in rented wheelchairs under a blazing sun.
With no passport or money to pay for bus tickets, they cannot move on to other cities in Colombia, or follow hundreds of thousands of others to Brazil, Peru, Chile and Ecuador.