‘The truth is we had to leave’: Fleeing Venezuela for Colombia
Cucuta, Colombia – Insecurity, instability and violence have forced more 1.5 million Venezuelans to flee the country since 2014, according to conservative government figures. Over half that population have sought refuge in neighboring Colombia.
“Colombia is a lifeline for western Venezuela,” said Rafael Velasquez Garcia, the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) head of mission in Colombia. “Every day more than 35,000 Venezuelans cross the Simon Bolivar bridge alone to purchase food and receive vital medical assistance, among other services which are not available in Venezuela. Of that number around 4,000 do not return Venezuela – many of whom are without official documentation or status.”
This number does not include those who cross through the “trochas” or trails that are often controlled by Colombian armed groups and/or organized crime groups, which charge migrants and refugees fees and expose them to the risks of recruitment and robbery.
An assessment of Venezuelans in Cucuta and Villa del Rosario conducted by the International Rescue Committee in March 2018 showed that among respondents who spent the last month in Colombia, their self-reported highest priority need was to find a job (89 percent), followed by food (80 percent), and then shelter (58 percent).
The assessment also found evidence of significant family separation, recruitment of children into gangs and armed groups, sexual violence and exploitation, including transactional sex of Venezuelan women, girls and boys, and due to the lack of education opportunities, more children living and working on the streets.
“Venezuelans who remain in Colombia invariably have few possessions, very little or no money, and no immediate, formal and safe opportunities to earn income,” Garcia said.
“As a result, many work in the informal sectors, increasing their exposure to violence, exploitation and other dangers. Women and children are often the most vulnerable during transit and they face significant protection risks when traveling alone to a new location.”
The IRC noted that the sheer number of Venezuelans remaining in Colombia has meant that needs are far outstripping available services.