In Colombia, refugees prepare shelter for families as Venezuela reopens border

CHUSACA, Colombia — Shelters in Colombia are preparing for a growing number of poor migrants arriving on foot when Venezuela reopens its border with its Andean neighbor, many of them children in need of food, medical attention and Got a chance to play again, aid workers said.

The leftist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said this month it was reopening Its side of the 2,219-kilometre (1,379 mi) border with Colombia, which was closed in 2019 due to political tensions.

Colombian right-wing government reopened his side at the border in June after closing it for 14 months amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, a Reuters reporter in the Venezuelan border city of San Cristobal saw dozens of migrants walking the international bridge between the two countries.

Colombia has for years been a top destination for people fleeing the economic and social collapse of Venezuela, home to some 1.8 million migrants. Even when the border was officially closed, thousands of migrants crossed the remote unofficial border.

Despite holes in torn clothing and shoes, many migrants walk to destinations in Colombia or beyond. They often lose suitcases and must care for children, who make up more than a third of walkers seen by the International Rescue Committee – an international aid organization – between June and September.

Venezuelan migrant children participate in the “Play to Dream” project run by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) at a care site in Chusaka, Colombia on October 21, 2021.Vanessa Jimenez / Reuters

“There is no doubt that this reopening will lead to an increase in migrant flows, suggesting more people to walk,” said IRC field manager Juanita Bedoya at the Cundinamarca department that surrounds the capital Bogota.

Bedoya said foot migrants – especially children – are vulnerable to the emotional toll of issues such as hunger, dehydration and violence as well as discrimination. He spoke at an ICR center for migrants on the outskirts of the popular expatriate destination Socha near Bogota.

The IRC runs its “Play to Dream” project in four such centers along the migrant route, where children can play and do crafts, as well as provide medical and psychological care to them and their families.

Among those at the center near Socha was 41-year-old construction worker Biangi Villaroel, who is traveling with his wife and three young children to the southern Colombian city of Popayan, where his family is based.

“It’s been good because we have guidance,” he said of the center, adding that he had spoken to doctors and a psychologist.

IRC provides children at four centers with books, colored pencils and pens, and other materials, packed inside brightly colored backpacks that they can take with them and accompany their parents and caregivers. Can be used.

Villaroel’s 28-year-old wife Luisandri Diaz and their children made animal masks and decorated them with crayons and finger paint.

“I love this little bird,” said 8-year-old daughter Luismar showing off her mask.

As of last year, about 130,000 Venezuelan children aged 4 and under lived in Colombia, according to immigration officials.

Migrants arriving before January 31, 2021 are eligible to apply for a 10-year special visa. More than 1.3 million have done so, and some 320,000 will soon receive Colombian ID cards.

Emilianis Ramos, 20, whose young daughter is in Venezuela with her mother, received a birth control implant at the center that would protect her from pregnancy for five years.

“A baby is a blessing from God, but it’s a huge responsibility,” Ramos said. “If you don’t have consistency, you can’t be responsible for another person, so that helps us.”

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