By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CUCUTA, Colombia – Colombia’s government has opened its first shelter for Venezuelan refugees. As the economic crisis in Venezuela continues to spiral out of control, refugees pour across the border in search of help.
Colombia built this shelter to curb the growing number of homeless Venezuelans. The facility, administered by the Red Cross, opened on Saturday, February 3, near the border city of Cucuta. It is expected to provide up to 48 hours of shelter for 120 people each day. It is designated as a temporary shelter meant for refugees who have a destination elsewhere, but need a place to stay while traveling. Priority will be given to pregnant mothers, the elderly, and minors who entered the country legally.
Local authorities stress that the shelter is only meant for those who entered the country legally and will be moving on to other locations. Mayor Pepe Ruiz said, “This is not going to be a shelter where we are going to house all the people that are in the street.” He added, “This a center of attention for people who are en route, who rest there while they get transport. I don’t agree that they should stick around there, or this will become a big mess.”
As one of the main crossing points for Venezuelans, the city of Cucuta has been under severe stress. The mass migration comes in such large waves that many are left sleeping on the streets. Hundreds of people are stranded and starving, and crime has increased as gangs recruit and take advantage of the migrants’ desperation.
Approximately 35,000 Venezuelans cross into Colombia each day. Many of them settle with relatives while others come to acquire the food or medicine they lack back home. In an effort to regulate the flow of migrants, immigration authorities have begun arresting and deporting those that entered illegally. Just last week, 130 Venezuelans who were sleeping on outdoor basketball courts were deported. Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin told reporters, “We are being as generous as possible with the Venezuelans’ situation, but there must be order.”
The United Nations has offered to assist local authorities with the overwhelming amounts of refugees. However, some worry that the creation of UN camps would encourage even more people to flee. Colombia’s inspector general, General Fernando Carrillo, admitted that they had been negligent in their emergency preparation. He explained, “We haven’t been strategic. We have been negligent in the control of the border because there have been many isolated efforts, but no integrated approach to the problem.”
While the number of migrants continues to grow, other countries such as the United States and Brazil are considering sending aid to Colombia.
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