As Venezuela is enduring one of the worst political and economic crises in its history, more and more people try to leave the country with the hope to find a better life. Neighboring Colombia has become one of the main destinations for Venezuelan refugees.
According to Colombia’s customs agency, some 550,000 Venezuelans have already entered the country, and their number continues to grow.
A country representative for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) told The Globe Post that the number of daily arrivals now hovers around 4,000 people.
The border areas have been the most affected by the influx of refugees so far, but Venezuelans also settle in Colombia’s main cities whose response capacities are becoming saturated.
“The Venezuelans in Colombia do not only settle in the border areas but also in big cities such as Bogota, Medellin, Bucaramanga, Barranquilla and Santa Marta,” Jozef Merkx said.
There are no refugee camps in Colombia. The country’s authorities coordinate response and assistance to arriving Venezuelans with support from the U.N., NGOs and other organizations.
“As UNHCR, we urge governments to avoid the establishment of camps, wherever possible, while pursuing alternatives to camps that ensure persons in need are protected and assisted effectively and enabled to achieve solutions,” Yukiko Iriyama, UNHCR Colombia Deputy Representative, told The Globe Post.
The crisis in Venezuela has been particularly devastating for the poor, marginalized and vulnerable. According to UNHCR, the priority assistance for these groups of people includes support for shelter – in particular for persons at heightened protection risks, support to ensure adequate access to health and education, and attention to population groups with specific needs, like women and children.
On Wednesday, Colombia’s Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas called for an emergency plan to help neighboring Venezuela after what he said would be its imminent collapse.
“The collapse of the [Venezuelan] economy is close,” Mr. Cardenas told AFP on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “The idea is to have ready an economic plan for Venezuela for the day after.”
“We do not know when that day will come but it will happen quickly due to the seriousness of the crisis,” he added.
Venezuela has been hit hard by sharply lower oil prices on the global market. According to forecasts, inflation may hit 13,000 percent this year.
From April to July last year angry Venezuelans took to the streets in protest, with 125 people killed as the demonstrations degenerated into clashes with security forces.
with reporting by AFP