Venezuela closes most-used border crossing from Colombia

Drivers queue while waiting to cross the Colombia-Venezuela border, at the Francisco de Paula Santander international bridge, on February 27, 2016, in Cucuta, Colombia. Venezuelan government partially opened the border with Colombia on Saturday to allow the return of stranded vehicles in both territories after a six-month closure. AFP PHOTO / SCHNEYDER MENDOZA / AFP / SCHNEYDER MENDOZA (Photo credit should read SCHNEYDER MENDOZA/AFP/Getty Images)

Venezuela on Friday closed entry from Colombia at the most-used crossing along the two countries’ border because of a decision by the government of Nicolas Maduro, Colombian migration authorities said.

Colombian authorities said they were informed by Venezuelan counterparts that the Simon Bolivar bridge connecting the cities of Cucuta and San Antonio would be closed due to the high number of recently arrived Venezuelans who are in quarantine on the other side.

The Venezuelan government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Colombia is a top destination for Venezuelans fleeing the political, economic and social crisis in their country. Some 1.7 million Venezuelans reside in Colombia.

Since March, when Colombia declared a national lockdown to combat coronavirus, around 100,000 Venezuelans have returned home.

Another 40,000 are waiting to cross the border, according to Colombian migration authorities, amid weekly limits by Venezuelan authorities on the number of citizens allowed to return.

“We are concerned for the health of everyone along the border and as such we have decided to suspend transport of Venezuelan citizens to Norte de Santander (province),” Colombia’s migration director Juan Francisco Espinosa said in a statement.

Colombian authorities had been bussing Venezuelans who wanted to return home from the interior of the country to Cucuta, but would stop to avoid border bottlenecks and possible health emergencies, Espinosa said.

“Together with mayors and governors we will begin to organize a new transfer schedule in response to the situation in our neighboring country,” he added.

Closure of the bridge crossing comes one day after Colombian President Ivan Duque said Venezuela’s administration is looking to buy Iranian missiles and is handing over weapons made in Russia and Belarus to Colombian armed groups.

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