By Richard McColl
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said Tuesday there are now upwards of one million Venezuelan refugees in his country who had crossed the border to escape a severe economic crisis at home.
Before addressing a UN meeting in New York to discuss a peace deal underway with former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, Santos gave an interview to Bloomberg television where he revealed the extent of the Venezuelan refugee crisis in Colombia.
“This is the most important challenge,” said Santos, speaking of the need for a peaceful transition of power in the neighboring country, “because we have more than a million Venezuelans now in Colombia”.
“This is putting an extraordinary amount of pressure on our institutions, our health system, education system and even on the workforce here in Colombia. We are trying to manage this situation in the most pragmatic way possible. We have been studying other examples, but this represents a major challenge for us,” he said.
Santos was quick to clarify that this number of over one million refugees is double that of all Syrians taken in by all of Europe and warned that the situation in Venezuela is critical and worsening as the number of Venezuelan refugees entering Colombia increases every day.
“Venezuela is on the edge of an implosion, and we hope that this is peaceful and not violent, as there will be a huge avalanche of Venezuelans fleeing to Colombia,” said Santos.
However, he dismissed any talk of foreign intervention in Venezuela, saying his government would continue to support measures agreed to across the region, including the economic sanctions currently imposed by the U.S. government.
He lamented that Venezuela, an oil producing nation, should be suffering from such extreme shortages of food and said that members of his administration had traveled to countries such as Turkey to learn from their experiences in attending to refugee crises such as the one Colombia is currently experiencing.