World / Social Issues

Colombia to seek U.N. help in dealing with Venezuelan migrant crisis after over million enter

AFP-JIJI, Reuters, AP

Colombia is asking the United Nations to intervene as it steps up efforts to manage the Venezuelan migrant crisis, Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said on Wednesday.

“We’re going to continue to request the appointment of a special envoy … to coordinate a multilateral action to combat this humanitarian crisis,” Holmes Trujillo told Blu Radio.

Holmes Trujillo said the government would submit a proposal at the U.N. General Assembly in New York next month, and will also push for the creation of “a multilateral emergency fund” to support the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans risking perilous conditions to flee the economic crisis in their homeland.

Colombia has already called on its southern neighbors, Ecuador and Peru, to agree on a common strategy to address the problem.

More than 2 million people have fled food and medicine shortages as well as collapsing public services in Venezuela, the U.N. says.

More than a million have entered Colombia in the last 16 months alone as President Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela grapples with a four-year recession and hyperinflation.

But Ecuador and Peru last week announced tightened border control measures, meaning thousands of Venezuelans have gotten stuck in Colombia, unable to continue their journey south.

Colombia has given temporary residence to more than 800,000 Venezuelans but many of those hope to travel further afield to Peru, Chile and even Argentina.

Around half of them aren’t carrying passports, but both Ecuador and Peru have said that will be a requirement now to enter their countries.

Colombia’s migration director, Christian Kruger said he was “worried about the consequences” of such a move.

“Asking for a passport isn’t going to stop migration, because they’re leaving their country not out of choice but out of necessity,” he said.

Ecuador announced on Tuesday it would organize a meeting of 13 Latin American countries to discuss the migrant crisis, with Venezuela invited alongside those most affected and regional giants such as Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.

On Wednesday, about 250 Venezuelans who illegally entered Ecuador won safe passage to the Peruvian border. Ecuadorean authorities dispatched buses to take the migrants 840 km from the northern border with Colombia to the Huaquillas coastal crossing with Peru.

Hundreds of migrants who began traveling days ago by bus and on foot through Colombia from Venezuela before the policy change crossed the Rumichaca checkpoint on Tuesday. They set out to walk and hitchhike, often in freezing conditions, to Huaquilla.

One 26-year-old Venezuelan, Maly Aviles, spent days on the Ecuador-Colombia border waiting with friends for a solution before the buses arrived.

The governor of Ecuador’s northern Pichincha province said more transfers would be organized for Venezuelans in the coming days.

“The Venezuelans have taken the decision to head for Peru and in Ecuador we must guarantee their rights. It’s a humanitarian crisis,” he told a local radio station.

In Maracaibo, Venezuela — a city once called the Saudi Arabia of Venezuela for its vast oil wealth — residents now line up to buy spoiled meat as refrigerators fail amid nine months of rolling power outages that recently got worse.

As Venezuelans endure the worst economic downfall in the oil-rich country’s history. basic services like running water and electricity have become luxuries.

Maduro blames the strife on an economic war waged by the United States and other capitalist powers. The governor of Maracaibo’s Zulia state, Omar Prieto, recently said the rampant blackouts were being repaired, but relief has yet to come.

The sprawling port city of Maracaibo, which also lies beside a vast lake, once served as a hub of Venezuela’s oil production, producing roughly half of the nation’s crude that was shipped around the world.

A bridge over Lake Maracaibo stands as a reminder of better times. The 8-kilometer-long (5-mile) structure, built five decades ago to link the city with the rest of Venezuela, once glowed at night with thousands of lights. Maracaibo was clean and bustling with international restaurants.

Today, the bridge’s lights no longer shine, and broken-down oil platforms span the lake, with downwind shores soaked in oil. The once-posh shopping centers have fallen into ruin, and the international businesses have packed up and left.