International aid needed to address Venezuelan crisis – Colombia

February 14, 2018 - 10:37 AM
People queue to try to cross into Venezuela from Colombia through the Simon Bolivar international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia. (photo by Carlos Eduardo Ramirez, Reuters)

BOGOTA — Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said on Tuesday the country needs international aid to help cope with the humanitarian crisis caused by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing over the border to escape the economic crisis at home.

“I appreciate the offers of financial and other aid from the international community. We are fully prepared to receive them. We need them because unfortunately this problem gets worse day by day,” Santos said at an event in Bogota.

Last week, Santos tightened border controls and heightened security in frontier towns.

Colombia’s migration authority has said that the number of Venezuelans living in Colombia increased 62 percent to more than 550,000 in the second half of 2017. Colombia has estimated that it costs $5 per day to give each Venezuelan migrant food and lodging.

As the number of Venezuelans crossing the border increases, including unattended children who get free vaccinations and education, Colombia estimates it would need $30 million to build an assistance center to give the migrants a temporary place to stay before deciding their next move.

Venezuela is in the throes of a protracted, severe recession that has cast many people into abject poverty. That, combined with hyperinflation in the oil-rich country, has led to the mass exodus.

Last Thursday, Santos said he would institute stricter migration controls, temporarily suspend new daily entry cards, and deploy 3,000 new security personnel, including 2,120 more soldiers, along the 2,219-kilometer (1,379-mile) shared frontier.

About 1.3 million Venezuelans have registered for the special migration card that allows them to cross the border by day to buy food and other products that are scarce in their own country.

While Venezuelan professionals like doctors and engineers have found work in big cities or in Colombia’s oil industry, most of the poor have settled in Colombian border towns.