Small town entrepreneurs find opportunity in Haitian migrant crisis

The coronavirus pandemic and a recent increase of Haitian migrants heading to the United States are testing a small coastal town in Colombia.

NECOCLI, Colombia – The street vendors that used to cater to Colombian city tourists in the town of Necoclí have adapted their inventory to their new customers: A new wave of desperate migrants heading to the U.S.

The biggest crowd of customers is not on the beach anymore. Migrants of all ages, mostly from Haiti, line up at the port to cross the Gulf of Urabá ahead of a 60-mile hike in Panama’s Darién Gap jungle.

Instead of summer hats and hammocks, the Colombian town of Necoclí has a growing demand for camping gear, rain boots, flashlights, ponchos, tin cans, and even machetes.

“This is the first time we have ever seen these items being sold here, but business is good,” Juan Chacon, a vendor at an outdoor market in Necoclí, said in Spanish.

Rosana Vasques, left, a Colombian living in Necocli, opened her home to migrants who are able to pay $5 to $6 for a nightly stay. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

Many of the migrants who are passing through the coastal fishing town are paying for goods and services in U.S. dollars. Rosana Vasques is among the Necoclí residents who found new economic opportunities.

Since there are not enough boats to cross the Gulf of Urabá, migrants wait for weeks for their turn. Vasques and her family decided to open the doors of a room in their quaint pink home.

“They pay us $5 to $6,” Vasques said about her nightly rate per person.

Necoclí’s public sewer system and the area’s San Sebastián de Urabá Hospital were not prepared for the population increase. Administrators fear there will be another surge that they won’t be able to handle.

Vasques hopes officials will find a way to get the help they need to adjust to the growth and be able to offer the migrants more hospitality.

“I also believe this is about solidarity,” Vasques said.

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Torres contributed to this report from Miami.

About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.