Venezuelans rush to border as Colombia imposes new checks

As Colombia tightens controls at border, Venezuelans are making a dash toward hundreds of dirt-road crossings that dot the 2,200-kilometre border separating the Andean neighbours.

With an estimated 600,000 Venezuelans currently in Colombia and the number set to double in six months, President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday announced new steps that could make it more difficult for Venezuelan migrants to cross into the country illegally or stay there without proper documents.

Under the new measures, over 2,000 additional military officers will guard the dirt-road crossings to stop illegal immigrants. Migration authorities will no longer issue temporary border crossing cards. All Venezuelans inside the country will be required to enrol in a registry.

A new migration patrol unit will visit places where Venezuelans gather to provide them guidelines on the rules they have to follow and warn them of health risks as thousands of immigrants are pushed into prostitution. Many are suffering from diabetes and cancer.

Despite the stress on Colombia’s health system brought by the migration wave, the country treats Venezuelans regardless of their status.

Santos squarely blamed Colombian President Nicolás Maduro who keeps denying that his country is facing a humanitarian crisis and refuses to allow aid to enter the country.

Santos urged him to permit humanitarian aid at least in the short term so that people do not have to leave their country.

Migration into Colombia has surged after Maduro moved to consolidate his rule and the nation’s economy plummeted. There is food shortage, high inflation and unemployment.

For Colombia, the migration wave comes at a time when it is recovering from decades of armed conflicts with leftist rebels which ended following the signing of a peace deal in 2016.

Santos cannot harden his stand on migrants as Venezuela has received 1 million Colombians decades ago when the country was entrenched in armed conflicts.