Tale of Survival and Separation: A Venezuelan Asylum Seeker and His Pet Squirrel
The Journey from Venezuela to the U.S. Border
A 23-year-old Venezuelan man, known as Yeison, and his pet squirrel, Niko, have navigated thousands of treacherous miles from Venezuela to the U.S. border. After surviving dangerous jungles and harrowing experiences, including crossing over a deceased body, their journey together may soon come to an end. Yeison, who fears for his family’s safety back home in Venezuela, has secured an appointment to present himself at the border to seek entry to the U.S. and request asylum. However, animals are generally not allowed to cross the border, which means Yeison and Niko may have to part ways.
Shared Hardship and Survival
Yeison and Niko’s relationship is an unusual but poignant reflection of the emotional choices migrants make over what to take and what to leave behind as they embark on the dangerous trip north. For six months, Yeison and Niko lived in a tent at an encampment with hundreds of other migrants in Matamoros, Mexico. The site is across from the Texas border city of Brownsville.
During their journey, the two became inseparable. So much so that Yeison sold his phone to ensure both had enough bus money to continue their journey. To Yeison, starting anew in the U.S. without Niko would be like starting with nothing.
The Bond between Yeison and Niko
Yeison discovered Niko, a newborn squirrel, nearly stepping on him one day in Venezuela. He took the squirrel home, where he named him Niko and his family members fed him yogurt. Over time, Niko developed a preference for nibbling on pine trees and is fed tomatoes and mangoes, even during times when food is hard to come by. The connection between Yeison and Niko grew so strong that he decided to bring Niko along on his journey to the U.S., rather than leave him behind with family in Venezuela.
Preparing For the Inevitable Separation
As Yeison’s appointment to seek entry to the U.S. looms closer, the pair are preparing to part ways. Despite the strong bond between them, Yeison understands that it may be necessary to separate due to the strict rules on bringing live animals and plants into the United States. However, volunteers at the encampment aren’t giving up. They have helped Yeison get Niko’s vaccinations documented, hoping to convince border agents to allow the squirrel to cross, either with Yeison or with a volunteer.
Though the chances of Yeison being able to take Niko across the border are slim, he has expressed his hope for Niko’s future. “I don’t want for him to be separated from me because I know that we’d get heartsick. I’m sure of that,” Yeison said. “And if he doesn’t get sick, I hope he gets to be happy. And that he never forgets my face.”
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