A large crowd of Venezuelan migrants held up traffic on a Bogota highway on Wednesday, demanding to be allowed to leave Colombia and return to Venezuela.
Some 500 migrants and a dozen buses were stranded near the toll booths that mark the northern border of Bogota, as migration authorities limited transport amid passage restrictions at the border.
The mass movement of thousands of Venezuelans back to their economically devastated country has been triggered by a coronavirus lockdown in Colombia, which has made it exceedingly difficult for them to earn a living.
Venezuela has said 600 people are allowed to cross the border each day, to allow for testing and organizing of quarantines. Colombia’s migration agency says Venezuela limits entrances to 300 per day.
“There are children here and we have no food to give them, we have no water, no resources, nor anywhere to stay. We are living on the street,” said Jesus Bolivar, 34, a Venezuelan doctor who has been in Colombia for over a year.
Special procedures have been put in place for Venezuelans wanting to return home, Colombia’s migration agency said in a statement later on Wednesday, as it called for migrants to coordinate travel with local authorities.
Crossings “are subject to the daily availability Venezuela has to receive its citizens,” the agency said.
Buses which have begun transport without authorization will be halted until there is space at the border, the statement said. Passengers will be subject to sanctions which could prevent their re-entry to Colombia or block them from certain visas.
Colombia’s lockdown, now in its sixth week, has decimated the informal economy where many migrants work, plunging them deeper into poverty and triggering a reversal in migration flows.
Colombia is the top destination for Venezuelans fleeing their country’s crisis – some 1.8 million migrants have arrived here in recent years.
Around 14,000 have now returned home.
Weary from travel, the migrants – including the elderly, diabetes patients and pregnant women – said the migration agency would not allow buses to leave until Friday.
“We’re in a bad way,” said Dubraska Dubian, 26, who was trying to return to Venezuela with her husband and their three daughters.
“How are we going to manage until Friday? We can’t even wash our hands. We’re sleeping in the buses, we don’t have food,” Dubian added. “They have to let us leave.”
Doctor Bolivar agreed: “What we want is to travel, to go back to our country.”