BOGOTA, COLOMBIA - Colombia's government has opened its first shelter for Venezuelans who are pouring across the border in ever larger numbers to escape their nation's economic crisis.
The bare-bones shelter that opened Saturday near the border city of Cucuta will provide shelter of up to 48 hours for 120 people a day. Pregnant mothers, the elderly and minors who entered the country legally will be given priority. It will be administered by the Red Cross.
Cucuta has been overwhelmed in recent weeks by an increasingly large exodus of Venezuelans. Many are sleeping on the streets and crime in the city has spiked as gangs recruit and take advantage of the desperate migrants.
Some 35,000 Venezuelans cross into Colombia each day, many of them settling in with relatives or making short trips to buy food and medicine that has been scarce for years back home.
But the numbers have surged in recent months, with an estimated 200,000 now looking to stay, as four-digit inflation plunges the oil-rich nation deeper into the abyss.
Not all of them have been embraced amid growing hysteria that the economic refugees are stealing jobs and overwhelming already stretched resources.
Last week, authorities deported 130 Venezuelans who had entered the country illegally and were sleeping outdoors on a basketball court in Cucuta. Migration authorities are also seeking to toughen enforcement of laws, even as Colombia extends from 90 days to two years the amount of time Venezuelans can remain in the country.
"We are trying to be as generous as possible but we also must have order,'' Foreign Minister Maria Holguin said this week after a special cabinet meeting to discuss the volatile situation.
President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to travel Thursday to Cucuta to review contingency plans for the burgeoning humanitarian crisis.