Even a snowy day in Groningen could not stop people from gathering in front of the Venezuelan food truck ‘Las Sabrozas’ in the Netherlands. Located at Vismarkt, the family business run by the Venezuelan Zuly Kregal and her son Villy is a huge success in town, especially with their famous arepas, tequeños, and empanadas, typical Venezuelan street food.
“It’s my life, It’s my family’s life,” says Villy, referring to the establishment that has been in his family for more than 15 years. He explains that people get surprised when they see Venezuelan food being sold in the Netherlands and he feels proud for being able to share his culture in a country that is full of international people.
Over the last decade, Venezuela has been facing one of the largest displacement crises in the world, forcing millions of people to leave the country. In Europe, one of their main destinations, the Venezuelan diaspora has been setting down roots while enriching the melting pot of different cultures in the old continent.
Since the death of former president Hugo Chávez in 2013, a political figure that changed the country’s history, Venezuela has been impacted by a dramatic fall in oil prices. Along with the bad government administration of both former and current president Nicolás Maduro, the South American nation saw its economy collapse. According to the United Nations, more than 7,1 million people have fled the country.
Almost 600 thousand Venezuelans live in Europe currently, according to a 2023 report by the Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants (R4V). Among the EU countries, Spain is the one that hosts the largest portion of the Venezuelan diaspora, approximately 438 thousand people.
“I miss my home every single day, for more than 7 years,” says Marlyn Rodriguez, who has a Spanish nationality and has been living in the Netherlands since 2016. Now working in the talent acquisition team at Meta, Marlyn confesses that she never wanted to leave her country, because she knew that once she moved out, she would never go back. For her, having her sister and Venezuelan friends around makes the process of living abroad less difficult as she remains in touch with her cultural traditions.
“Between 2016 and 2019, it was the worst moment for Venezuela, mainly because you couldn’t find anything like food or medication,” explains Sophia Gaiti, a fashion designer who moved to the Netherlands with her partner in 2020. She recounts that their main concerns while in Venezuela used to be related to violence and insecurity, which turned out to be a push factor for them: “we wanted a family, so if you feel you’re not safe, you’ll never want to raise a child there.”
Like many Venezuelans, Sophia has a dual nationality, inherited from her Italian father which made the process of moving to Europe easier. Now, with a 2-year-old daughter, she plans to move to Barcelona as a way to feel less homesick, as both countries share similar cultures. “I don’t feel like home here, but I think we’ll find that in Spain,” tells Sophia.
As explained by Tomás Páez, professor and coordinator at the Observatory of the Venezuelan Diaspora, “Venezuela has always been a country that received many immigrants”, for several reasons, but mainly because of the attractions that the oil sector offered in the past. As a consequence, many Venezuelans today have dual nationality – Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, being the main ones.
The Venezuelan population in Spain grew 14,4% in the first semester of 2022, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE). The profile of the immigrants, however, changed when compared to previous years. “Between 2015 and 2016, there were more highly qualified professionals arriving in Spain, and they used to come with more economic resources,” explains Cristina Isacura, a Venezuelan lawyer specialized in Immigration and International Law. Now, a considerable portion of Venezuelans come with “no studies, no money, or anything.”
The main services offered by Isacura’s office, located in Madrid, are related to legal procedures involving the acquisition of Spanish or European nationalities, and the majority of her clients are investors and entrepreneurs. However, as a way to help part of her community that does not have the money to pay for the services offered, Isacura has a blog and a YouTube channel, where she shares important information about these legal procedures.
The cultural influence of Venezuelans can be seen everywhere in Spain, “with tequeños and arepas being sold in almost every corner”, explains Isacura while mentioning that “there are many plays and concerts with Venezuelan actors and musicians almost every weekend in Madrid,” which has impacted local businesses and economy.
As the Venezuelan diaspora in Europe grows larger, the cultural and economic background is likely to diversify accordingly.
“All migration reduces global poverty. All migration improves productivity. All migration adds value. All migration gives more than it receives,” affirms Páez.