Refugees fearing Venezuelan military remain stranded in Arauquita

ARAUQUITA, Colombia – Edith Rosa Medina remained at a temporary shelter this week in Colombia’s town of Auraquita. She has been sleeping in a tent set up at a basketball court where the students of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez school usually play.

Medina said she and her husband abandoned their home in Venezuela because they feared for their lives after the Venezuelan military arrived to fight armed groups that had settled in the area.

“I could feel the house shaking during the bombings there,” Medina said. “My nerves just couldn’t handle it.”

Medina is among thousands who started to cross the Venezuela-Colombia border to get to safety in Auraquita after the fighting began on March 21st.

Venezuelan refugees wait in line to eat breakfast at a refugee camp in en Arauquita, Colombia. (AP Foto/Fernando Vergara) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Some of the refugees abandoned their farms and their crops in Venezuela’s Apure state. Some of them brought their pets and livestock. There were dogs, cats, chickens, parrots, and a pig. Farmer Nepo Ascensia said he had to bring his birds or they would die.

“If you don’t feed them, they won’t search for food,” Ascensia said adding, “We had to leave because we heard the Venezuelan government is killing people and then dressing them up as guerrilla fighters.”

Children line up at a refugee camp in Arauquita, Colombia. (AP Foto/Fernando Vergara) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Some of the refugees said there were soldiers shooting from Venezuelan military helicopters. Others from the Venezuelan town of La Victoria said there were soldiers going from door to door, raiding homes — and in some cases looting.

Having escaped that, they are now facing the risk of the coronavirus pandemic. Colombian authorities have already detected four COVID-19 cases at refugee camps where social distancing is a challenge.

Refugees started to cross a river to get to Colombia from Venezuela after the military began to fight armed groups on March 21st.

The United Nations’ World Food Program and High Commissioner for Refugees are aiming to help more than 5,000 people who were displaced. Roberto Mignon, of the UNHCR, stood in a camp at a soccer field.

“There are many people who are not only in shelters but also with families, with friends, but they are overcrowded, so now when we open this place tomorrow, we will relieve the weight on the families that are hosting other families,” Mignon said.

Many of the refugees said they are eager to return to their homes, but they are worried that there is no end in sight to the conflict between the Venezuelan military and armed groups that have bases in the area.

Related story: Deadly Venezuelan military operation sends thousands of refugees to Colombia

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About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.