Colombia has expressed anger over the deportations of its citizens after Venezuela closed its border with its western neighbour last week.
Venezuela has announced a 60-day extension of its partial closure of the border with Colombia after President Nicolas Maduro said his country was under attack by neighbouring paramilitary groups, drug traffickers and black marketeers.
The move came after the governor of Tachira state in western Venezuela said more than 1000 undocumented Colombians had been expelled over the weekend for suspected black market activities. The expulsions followed an incident on Wednesday in which unknown gunmen wounded three National Guard members at an outpost near the border.
President Maduro last week closed a major crossing between the two countries and declared a state of emergency in several western cities after three army officers were shot and wounded by gunmen he said belonged to paramilitary gangs operating from Colombia. While the assailants have not been caught, the incident touched a nerve with supporters of Maduro’s socialist administration, who increasingly have placed blame for rampant crime and widespread shortages on Colombians.
As part of the state of emergency, Maduro deployed some 1,500 extra troops to the border to search house-by-house for smugglers who thrive on purchasing goods in Venezuela at low prices and reselling them across the border for huge profits.
Expulsions and deportations of Colombians from Venezuela have more than doubled this year to 3,800, according to officials from Migration Columbia.
Maduro also said Venezuela has been inundated by more than 100,000 Colombians in recent months, comparing it with mass migrations underway in the Middle East.
The two countries have been at odds over trans-border trade. Colombians have taken advantage of Venezuela’s government-subsidised economy to smuggle cheaper goods across the border for sale. That, in turn, has exacerbated severe shortages of basic food and household items in Venezuela.
The porous 2,219-kilometer (1,379-mile) border shared by the two countries is frequently traversed by smugglers moving price-fixed goods from Venezuela to Colombia for profit, as well as illegal armed groups.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Maduro’s dramatic actions would hurt communities on both sides of the border. An estimated 5 million Colombians live in Venezuela, many of them without permission, and the flow of people and goods across the border has been a fixture of daily life for decades, changing direction with the shifting fortunes of each nation’s economy.
Foreign ministers from both countries are expected to meet Wednesday in Cartagena, Colombia in a bid to resolve the crisis.