Riohacha, Colombia – Six-year-old Wilmer Valero has slept on the streets of Colombia’s Riohacha with rotting teeth for four months.
He brought the problem from Venezuela, where a molar operation in a country without basic antibiotics had left his gums infected, slowly turning black.
Now, he, his two siblings and his parents find themselves among a tide of migrants and refugees spilling across the continent, including in this small peripheral city in the desert, about 80km from the Venezuelan border.
Migrants here, like Valero’s parents, compete with thousands of others for what scant work or aid this underdeveloped region can offer.
“If I pay rent, there’s nothing left to eat, much less to buy him medicine when he’s sick,” said Valero’s mother, 28-year-old Yulibet, who used to sell coffee in Maracaibo, Venezuela.
Valero got his mouth fixed last week on board a US hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, that visited this impoverished region as part of a humanitarian tour of Latin America. Thousands of local Colombians and Venezuelans queued over several days for free simple treatment, laying bare an already deep need driven deeper by the flow of desperate migration.