Returning to Venezuela from Colombia, a reverse odyssey forced by COVID-19

Cucuta, Colombia, Apr 30 (efe-epa).- The desire of thousands of Venezuelans to return home due the coronavirus pandemic, which left them without job opportunities in Colombia, has become an odyssey for entire families who face daily obstacles in crossing the border.

The migration phenomenon seen over the last two years on Colombia’s roads – where Venezuelans walked together, many of them only with the clothes they were wearing, some with children in their arms, to arrive in cities such as Bogota, Medellin or Cali in search of a better life – is now being repeated, but in the opposite direction.

“We don’t want to be here in Colombia anymore, so please do something for us,” Jorge Medina told EFE as he waited in a long line in La Parada on the outskirts of Cucuta, and the main border crossing between the two countries, to obtain authorization from the Colombian immigration authority to enter Venezuela.

In the line, where the minimum space of one meter apart to avoid the spread of COVID-19 cannot be maintained, there are especially many young people and families with small children, most of them wearing masks and who are constantly complaining to their parents about feeling tired or hungry. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy cannot keep up with the pace.

Many of them were already settled in Colombia, some of their children were even born here, but the coronavirus quarantine that paralyzed the economy brought them back to the streets and the best decision for many is to return to Venezuela. People who fled from one crisis are now being forced to return by another. They keep repeating: “If we are to endure hunger, we better endure in our country.”

There are more than a few who undertake the return confident that at least the control of the pandemic is better in Venezuela, with 331 cases and 10 deaths, than in Colombia, which has 6,507 infections and 293 deaths, according to official figures.

If it wasn’t easy for them to get here, it won’t be easy to leave either, because since 2015 the border has been open to pedestrians only, by order of Venezuela, and then it was sealed off by Colombia in March as part of the measures to control the pandemic.

According to Colombia Migration, President Nicolas Maduro’s government only authorizes the passage of 300 returnees per day, of which 200 cross the Simón Bolívar International Bridge, which connects Cucuta with the Venezuelan town of San Antonio del Tachira, while another 100 cross the Jose Antonio Paez International Bridge in Arauca.

As a result, Colombia Migration is now holding buses at the exits of Bogota and other cities, not only to verify the safety and health conditions of travelers, but also to prevent the exodus from accumulating in Cucuta or Arauca.

“The return of Venezuelan citizens to their country depends on the capacity of Venezuela to receive its nationals. Only 300 people can cross it daily, not by order of the Colombian Migration, but by the authorities of that country who have established this quota,” said the director of that state agency, Juan Francisco Espinosa.

According to Migration Colombia, there are more than 1.8 million Venezuelans in the country who fled the crisis at home, and more than 14,000 of them have already returned through authorized humanitarian corridors.

However, Espinosa said that despite the urgency, Venezuelans must comply with the rules adopted by the government, such as mandatory isolation, and that returns must be coordinated with local municipalities. EFE-EPA


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