Venezuelans left stranded at Ecuador′s border as visa rule comes into effect | News | DW | 29.08.2019
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Venezuelans left stranded at Ecuador's border as visa rule comes into effect

Ecuador's new visa restrictions left Venezuelans marooned at the border. Colombia's government criticized Quito's decision, saying it could boost human trafficking and put migrants at risk.

Venezuelan migrants left stranded by a new rule that bars them from entering Ecuador without a visa were still lingering at the country's border on Wednesday.

"We will stay and we will fight to get in, whatever it takes!" one migrant told news agency EFE, as many camped out on the Colombian side of the border, assisted by the Red Cross and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

More than 11,000 Venezuelans left Colombia via the Rumichaca border bridge towards Ecuador over the weekend, in an attempt to enter the country before new visa requirements went into force.

Hundreds of migrants who did not make it when the policy went into effect on Monday blocked traffic on the bridge in protest, Colombian media reported.

Colombian police were dispatched to the border to keep control of the situation and to help move migrants into nearby shelters.

According to the new rules, Venezuelans seeking to go to Ecuador will need to apply for a visa, a process that requires a valid passport, a consulate interview and a $50 (€45) fee.

"Please, President Lenin… there are sick children, pregnant women, elderly people, and people with disabilities here," a migrant woman said to EFE, in a desperate plea to Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno.

Colombia blasts Ecuador

Colombia sharply criticized Ecuador's decision. "The requirement for documents or visas will not prevent Venezuelans from continuing to leave their country to survive," Colombian Foreign Minister Holmes Trujillo said.

"The passage of migrants through unauthorized areas, the so-called 'shortcuts,' boosts crime and human trafficking, putting people at risk," he stressed.

"It also stops the state from identifying the population that is entering, meaning migration figures are not known with certainty and necessary policies cannot be implemented to tend to that population," Holmes Trujillo added.

Read more: Trump, Maduro confirm secret contact over Venezuela crisis

Despite absorbing the largest number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees, with more than 1.4 million arrivals, Colombia has not yet chosen to impose visa requirements — unlike Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, Chile, Peru and Ecuador.

Some 320,000 Venezuelans have settled in Ecuador and the government expects the figure to increase to nearly half a million by the end of the year.

Ecuador defended its policy on Tuesday, saying their new visa measures exuded "extreme solidarity" towards migrants.

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Foreign Relations Minister Jose Valencia said his government had expected the swell of migrants at the border, but he was confident that things would "return to normal" over time.

A global problem

In an interview with news agency dpa, Yukiko Iriyama, the UNHCR deputy representative in Colombia, called for countries to share responsibility for the refugee intake, while sounding an alarm about the vulnerability of migrants.

"People are arriving in more vulnerable states and conditions, requiring more humanitarian support," Iriyama said.

"The magnitude of the problem is no longer regional, it is becoming global," she added. "We are appealing for wider international responsibility-sharing," Iriyama said.

According to UNHCR, Latin America and the Caribbean currently host 80% of the 4.3 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees who have fled as a result of deep economic and political crises plaguing the country.

After Colombia, Peru holds the largest number of Venezuelan migrants with about 853,400. Some 288,200 are in Chile, 178,600 have fled to Brazil and 145,000 to Argentina.

jcg/ng (EFE, dpa)

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