Colombia’s foreign minister announced Thursday that she will meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon next Wednesday to discuss an ongoing border crisis with Venezuela.
Colombia has been trying to gather international support for a week after the Venezuelan deportation of more than a 1,000 Colombians from the neighboring country, which was succeeded by an exodus of almost 10,000 Colombians who fled Venezuela fearing persecution.
According to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the mass deportation was part of efforts to curb contraband and crime in the border region. However, deported Colombians have told stories about arbitrary arrests.
“It is very difficult for me when I speak to these people, feeling this impotence.,” Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said, adding that she would show the UN chief “what has happened and this absurd situation.”
Holguin will also meet with the High Commissioner of Human Rights and the International Organization of Migration on Monday and Tuesday.
The foreign minister will have the task of presenting Colombian’s side of the story to Ki-moon, as the Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, already met with the Secretary General on Thursday. Maduro asserts that the border closure deportations were recourse to address on going Colombian paramilitary operations near the border of the two countries.
“We sat down to talk at length in a meeting and I explained to him, detail by detail. I said, we have a border with Colombia of 2,219 kilometers, the Colombian is side governed by paramilitaries, smugglers and drug traffickers, because [the Colombian government] abandoned the border. On the Venezuelan side, a territory free of drug production, but they placed paramilitaries,” said the Venezuelan president.
Referencing immigration numbers, Maduro asked for “help and advice” from the Secretary General in light of what he characterizes as a humanitarian crisis in Colombia, causing its citizens en mass to “flee” to Venezuela.
“I told the secretary Ban Ki Moon that we need help and advice from the UN to stop the massive humanitarian exodus from Colombia to Venezuela (…) to help us, we are a small country,” Maduro said after the meeting.
“A modest country, of 27 million inhabitants, how can it recieve, for example, in 2012 188,000 Colombians. In 2013, some 160,000. Last year in 2014, 144, 000. And this year, in the first eight months, 140.000 Colombians have come. What country can bear this?”
On August 19, Maduro ordered the closure of certain border crossings with Colombia after an attack on Venezuelan military a patrolling for contraband smugglers. Caracas attributes those attacks to “Colombian paramilitaries.”
Venezuela has now deported over 1,000 Colombians from the border region and 32 others from Caracas. Another 10,000 have cross the border voluntarily out of fear of persecution from Venezuela authorities.