Cucuta, Colombia, Aug 27, 2015 / 10:36 am
With thousands of Colombian residents of Venezuela being driven from their homes amid a border crisis and martial law, the bishop of a Colombian border city is encouraging his people to assist the displaced.
Since last week, more than 6,000 Colombian residents of Venezuela have been expelled or have left voluntarily, after president Nicolas Maduro declared martial law and closed the border following the Sept. 19 injury of four Venezuelans by Colombian smugglers.
Bishop Victor Ochoa Cadavid of Cúcuta warned that Venezuela's actions have unleashed a humanitarian crisis, and therefore asked that "the competent authorities address, in a timely and effective manner, the situation confronting the people expelled from our neighboring country."
The bishop noted that the diocese is providing assistance to some 200 deportees through its Migration Center, "providing shelter, personal hygiene items, and food, with contributions coming from the Diocesan Food Bank and Jesuit Refugee Services."
Bishop Ochoa added that the diocese is also providing food for the 207 persons housed in Cúcuta's public schools and that they are "awaiting a contribution from the city administration to increase the aid."
He also said that in La Parada, another border town located six miles south of Cúcuta, "Saint Peter the Apostle Parish is providing accommodation and food for 30 people, and they are moving forward with taking inventory of the needs in available lodging in the area. With the help of religious communities we are taking care of 196 deportees or people who are in need."
The bishop was thankful that the fruits of this year's Campaign for Christian Communication of Goods will be able to provide for "this complex situation, especially for children and youth."
Ya son mas de tres mil los colombianos deportados desde el Tàchira. pic.twitter.com/pV3N00aUOs- RCTV.net (@RCTVenlinea) August 25, 2015
Maduro declared a state of emergency in Tachira state, which borders Colombia, on Aug. 20, after the clash between smugglers and Venezuelan soldiers.
A market for smuggling goods such as gasoline and foodstuffs from Venezuela to Colombia has developed because these goods are subject to price controls imposed by Venezuela's socialist government. They are bought at a subsidized price, smuggled, and resold at market rates.
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos criticized Maduro's decision, saying that "If we co-operate, the only ones to lose are the criminals, but if the border is closed, there is no co-ordination and the only ones to gain are the criminals."
He added that those deported have not been smugglers or paramilitaries, "but poor and humble families who only want to live and work."
The state of emergency allows Venezuelan military authorities to search homes and businesses without a warrant.
Venezuelan armed forces have inspected some 2,400 homes in six border towns, spray painting 600 with the letter "D", indicating they are to be demolished, and the rest with the letter "R", indicating they had been reviewed.
Santos commented that "marking houses to later demolish them is totally unacceptable and reminds one of bitter episodes in history which cannot be allowed to recur."
Talks between the Colombian and Venezuelan foreign ministers began Aug. 26 in an effort to return to a normal situation along their border.
More than 1,000 Colombian residents of Venezuela have been expelled, and an estimated 5,000 have left voluntarily.
Bishop Ochoa reflected, saying: "We invite everyone to pray for these families who are suffering because of the measures taken by the rulers of Venezuela."
"We ask God to grant to all a space for understanding, solidarity, and fraternity, as befits two brotherly countries."