The U.N. praised Venezuela’s treatment of the many thousands of Colombian refugees who arrive in the country each year. Mohamed Alwash, the UNHCR’s representative in Venezuela, says that he senses “no resentment, xenophobia or threats against Colombians,” reports El Tiempo.
More than 180,000 Colombians have arrived in the country since 2002, according to U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees.
The recent diplomatic tensions between the neighboring nations have not caused mistreatment of Colombian refugees, according to the Awash.
The U.N. official praised the generosity of the Venezuelan government and people towards the refugees, but noted that many of the newcomers remain illegally in the country. Of the estimated 180,000 arrivals in the last eight years, 14,723 have applied for refugee status, which has been granted to 2,900 of them.
“We have a small number of refugees compared with the total number of Colombians who fled to Venezuela. This situation is a challenge for everyone,” said Awash.
The UNHCR’s positive comments clash with recent warnings by the governor of the eastern Colombian Norte de Santander department that the border region faces a crisis, as Colombian pour back into their home country to escape Venezuelan persecution.
Colombia and Venezuela have been at odds since the signing by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe of a deal to give the U.S. access to his country’s military bases.
In addition to refugees fleeing to Venezuela, Colombia has a large number of internal refugees who have been forced from their homes by the country’s ongoing armed conflict but who remain within its borders. One human rights group puts the number at 4.9 million.
The UNHCR statements mark World Refugee Week, held from June 15 – 20.