In November 2019, Ángel Márquez and his family abandoned their home in Venezuela’s Barinas province and joined the more than 4 million Venezuelans that have left their homelands due to the economic and humanitarian crises that plague the country. In search of a new home, the Márquez family rooted themselves in the town of Pareja in Spain, which has a population of 400 people.
Now you might be asking: why Pareja? The answer is two-fold: Pareja is one of many towns in Spain that are seeing many young people move away in search of work and opportunities, taking with them their labor, their skills, and, perhaps most importantly, their children. Their absence upsets traditional demographic balances, condemning many small towns and villages to an ineluctable decline as shops and services shut down, schools close their doors because of a lack of pupils, and only the older people stay on.
Responding to this demographic challenge, a small NGO called Towns with a Future Association is working to match depopulated areas with migrants in search of a new life, such as the Márquez family. Established in January, the association is working with eight migrant families with children and about 35 individual migrants. While many of the migrants it helps are from Venezuela, it is also assisting people from Colombia, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Ukraine, Mali, and Nigeria.
Márquez and his family, who spent seven long and hard months in Madrid before settling in Pareja in June, are enchanted by their new home. Both have renounced any benefits while they wait for their asylum application to go through and are working in the town, Márquez as a handyman for the council, and his wife Varillas as a carer for some of Pareja’s elderly residents. When the local school reopens in September, Márquez and Varillas’ two young sons, Sebastián and Santiago, will begin classes.
The Towns with a Future Association hopes that others will follow the lead of Pareja’s mayor, Javier del Río, and open themselves to newcomers. As one of the association’s founders points out, the benefits are myriad and mutual. “The scheme helps them because they stop living on benefits and that’s fundamental: they become independent economically. And the project has quite a big impact socially because it’s something that helps the families and the towns.”