Save for cultural and climate shock, Venezuelan repatriates happy in Slovenia

People hold a Venezuelan flag above their heads.
Venezuelans of Slovenian descent mostly happy with their new life in Slovenia. Photo: STA

Slovenia launched a plan to repatriate Venezuelans of Slovenian descent in 2019 when the country faced a turmoil. Since then, 107 Venezuelans have relocated to Slovenia. For many, moving here was a bit of a cultural and climate shock, but most are happy, feeling much safer here than they did in Venezuela.

The repatriated persons enjoy special status for 15 months that entitles them to public aid to cover the basic costs of living, healthcare and temporary housing, either private or state-owned. They are also entitled to a language course because most do not speak Slovenian.

To be able to stay in Slovenia beyond the 15-month period, they can either apply for permanent residence or citizenship; spouses who are not of Slovenian origin are subject to provisions under the foreigners act.

To ease their integration, the repatriates are accommodated in towns with good job prospects or places where their forebears come from. Currently, most of them live in Gorenjska, Dolenjska and Primorska, Danilo Jesenik Jelenc from Caritas Slovenia told the STA. The Catholic charity helps them to settle down.

Initially, the humanitarian organization tries to find accommodation in central Slovenia, where it is easier for them to take care of the necessary paperwork, and access some types of education and jobs. They also get help in navigating the healthcare system, when needing transport, and in communication.

The repatriates are of different age groups and are mostly well-educated; they hold a degree, some are university professors and doctors. Jesenik Jelenc says this year more of them got jobs, mainly in manufacturing and call centres, also hospitality, jobs that are less demanding than those they performed in Venezuela.

“These are good signs of integration,” he says, adding that many have managed to get on their feet. “Language is often a problem, especially at first.” Initially, the repatriates were older with a relatively good command of Slovenian, but now younger people are coming who do not speak the language at all.

Culture shock is another issue as social norms differ, he says, pointing out punctuality and not trying to avoid paying fines. “And they are very cold. Most come from the tropics and are not used to winter.”

It sometimes takes a while before they dare to drink tap water, which is a major health risk in Venezuela. However, the situation in Slovenia is so much better that they feel good here overall, says Jelenc.

Vito Pribac, a repatriate who came to Slovenia with his wife and mother in 2020, told the STA that they decided to leave due to difficult living conditions in Venezuela. “Medications were not available, and inflation was very high,” he explained.

Coming here, Pribac was pleasantly surprised by orderliness, punctuality and how people follow traffic regulations. He feels much safer here. At first he found it odd that “people walk the streets in the evening with their phones in their hands and they don’t get hurt”. In Venezuela, it is not safe to walk the streets after 6pm.

For now, he and his wife do volunteer work at Caritas Slovenia because they have not been able to find a job, which he finds a bit disappointing. He is an electrical engineer, but because he and his wife are over 60, getting a job has been a challenge.

Caritas Slovenia also holds get-togethers for Venezuelans in Slovenia. In September they hosted Andreja Godnič, a nun and missionary working in Venezuela, who brought them up to speed with the situation in the country.

According to official data, there were several hundred Slovenian citizens in Venezuela in 2019 and up to a thousand in total who are of Slovenian origin.

The Office for Slovenians Abroad says that 27 Venezuelans arrived in Slovenia under the scheme this year. Out of 107 individuals, 33 still have an active repatriate status. Of those who do not, 14 have left Slovenia for Spain because they know the language and have family members there.