Venezuelans in Colombia trapped between coronavirus and bureaucracy

Bogota, Apr 26 (efe-epa).- Thousands of Venezuelan migrants who want to return to their country are trapped in Colombian cities due to the coronavirus pandemic and the bureaucracy of authorities, which they accuse of stalling their travel for no reason.

In the Vision de Colombia neighborhood in western Bogota, more than 200 people have been sleeping on four buses for four days, they said, waiting for the immigration authorities to give them permission to leave the city and travel by road to Cucuta or Arauca, two cities that have border crossings with Venezuela.

Jairo Roa, one of the people waiting for the authorization of Colombia Migration to be able to travel to the border because the quarantine has restricted his opportunities to work, told EFE that he saw on social networks many of his compatriots trying to return to Venezuela without greater difficulties.

“In my case, I came after seeing on Facebook that buses were leaving and that they were arriving at the border… Migration came to the toll in the municipality of Chia (on the outskirts of Bogota) and gave them authorization and then they left. I don’t know why this did not happen to us,” said the man, who together with his compatriots sang the national anthem to give themselves courage in the face of the situation.

He added that three days ago they went to the town near Bogota and there the authorities blocked their way and the police took them to the Vision de Colombia neighborhood to wait for the authorization from the immigration authorities.

“The reason they gave us is that Venezuela is not going to open the border for us, that the border is not open to us,” he said.

The Venezuelans, who are waiting for the authorization to leave Bogota and thank the solidarity of residents of the sector who have donated food, assure that none of the travelers have symptoms of COVID-19.

“Three buses left today for the border with Arauca and the other four left are expected to leave tomorrow for Cucuta (the main border crossing between both countries),” said Roa, who hoped the authorities would fulfill their promises.

The director of Colombia Migration, Juan Francisco Espinosa, said that the voluntary return of Venezuelans is being implemented with a protocol coordinated with the mayors and governments of the country to avoid crowds at the exit points.

“Colombia has always been ready to help the Venezuelan people, but that help should be done in a responsible way, not only with migrants, but with our communities,” Espinosa said in a video released by his office.

He added that “Venezuelan citizens who wish to return voluntarily to their country will be able to do so with the conditions that have been set for this procedure and those who do not comply with them will see their trip suspended until they do so.”

He also said that since the quarantine began on Mar. 25, more than 12,000 Venezuelans have returned to their country and reached the border crossings in some 300 buses.

Regarding these vehicles, Espinosa assured that the authorities are working to ensure that they comply with the regulations established by the government to provide this type of service during compulsory isolation.

So far, Migration Colombia has initiated sanction processes for more than 15 bus companies for not complying with the regulations established during the quarantine.

On Mar. 14, some 200 Venezuelans, including 17 children, began their return from the Colombian city of Cali, fearful of the coronavirus pandemic that left them without job opportunities in Colombia.

There are 1.8 million Venezuelans living in the country, according to Colombia Migration.

With the economic paralysis caused by the quarantine, thousands of Venezuelans who had emigrated to Colombia were left without a source of income and consequently without the means to eat or pay a rent, and for those reasons they chose to return to their country. EFE-EPA


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