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Colombia Seeks Source of Signs That Threaten Venezuelan Migrants

People prepare to sleep in a public square that has become an informal shelter for several hundred undocumented Venezuelan migrants in Bucaramanga, Colombia, Aug. 27, 2018.

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — Colombia is looking into dozens of signs with threatening messages about Venezuelan migrants that were posted in the northeastern city of Bucaramanga and that bear the name of a crime gang, authorities said.

More than 1.4 million Venezuelans have migrated to Colombia in recent years, fleeing shortages of food and medicine and political upheaval.

"The time has come for a cleansing of all Bucaramanga. Homeless people and thieves, who generally are Venezuelans, will hit the floor, as will those who take them in," said the signs, many of which are attached to trees.

"Those who have Venezuelan employees have 48 hours to replace them," the posters, signed by the Aguilas Negras crime gang, added.

The Aguilas Negras are a drug trafficking group largely composed of former right-wing paramilitary fighters. They are well-known for threatening social cleansing against marginalized groups in areas where they are active.

Some 38,000 Venezuelans live in Bucaramanga, according to figures from Colombia's migration agency.

Colombia's vice president, Marta Lucia Ramirez, said the country would adopt security measures to protect migrants from potential xenophobic attacks.

"Any threat to the lives of the Venezuelan or Colombian-Venezuelan population that has come to Colombia is a crime and there will be judicial and criminal consequences for those responsible for these pamphlets," Ramirez told journalists.

In a statement late on Wednesday, Colombia's migration agency rejected the threats and said it would meet with local authorities to review the situation.

The migrant influx has put pressure on Colombia's already overburdened health and education systems. It is common to see desperate Venezuelan migrants begging for coins or selling items on street corners across the country.