Colombia has authorized the reopening of its border crossings with Venezuela, which were closed for more than a year to tackle the spread of the coronavirus
Starting at midnight Tuesday, the government began what it called a “gradual” reopening of its 2,200-kilometer (1,367-mile) border with the country, which means that schedule times for crossings have been established. The schedules vary depending on the access point at the border. Restrictions have also been enforced based on the last recorded number of people’s identity documents.
The decision came as a surprise to many after the nation’s Foreign Ministry had said in a decree that Colombia would keep its border with Venezuela closed until Sept. 1.
Following the approval of the Ministry of Health, however, the government authorized the reopening of the land and river crossings. Authorities had closed the crossings in March 2020 after the first two cases of COVID-19 were reported in Venezuela.
The closure of the border encouraged people fleeing Venezuela’s social and economic crisis to enter Colombia through illegal border crossings, the Chamber of Commerce of Cucuta, the largest city on the border, said Monday.
Although Colombia is home to more than 1.7 million Venezuelans, the two countries do not maintain diplomatic relations. The number of migrants could increase after President Ivan Duque announced in February that Colombia will give temporary protective legal status to Venezuelan migrants, which will allow them to work legally in the country.
In recent months, clashes along the border between the Venezuelan army and illegal armed groups operating in Colombia have been the norm. About 5,000 Venezuelan civilians have fled the conflict, seeking refuge in Colombia.
Colombia reopened its borders with Panama, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador on May 19. At that time, the Foreign Ministry explained that the possibility of reopening the border with Venezuela was being analyzed.
By Laura Gamba in Bogota