BOGOTA (Reuters) - Over 200,000 Venezuelans have registered with Colombian authorities in the first few weeks of a count meant to assess how many undocumented migrants have fled to the Andean country, the Colombian government said on Monday.
South America is trying to cope with an exodus of Venezuelans leaving their home country in a bid to escape a crushing economic crisis that has caused hunger and scarcity. Many cross overland into Colombia along its 2,219 km (1,379-mile) border, without passing through any immigration check-points.
Colombia is asking Venezuelans to register if they do not have work or tourism visas, dual citizenship, or other type of formal permission to remain in Colombia. The government has said the information is meant to help understand resources needed for schooling, medical care and other services and will not be used for deportations.
Some 320,000 Venezuelans in Colombia have visas, a visa extension or a tourist visa lasting 180 days. The government estimates another 500,000 are undocumented, while 230,000 passed through the country on their way to other destinations.
“Halfway through the registration we have 203,989 Venezuelans registered, there’s still a month left,” Felipe Munoz, the government’s director of border issues, told journalists.
“(Registration) does not change their migration status, it’s not for food vouchers, for aid, or for voting, this is so the Colombian government has information that allows it to design a humanitarian policy within our fiscal restrictions, but always with empathy and generosity,” Munoz said.
Some 80 percent of the Venezuelans who have registered indicated they wanted to stay in Colombia, Munoz said, but many said they would be willing to return home if conditions there improved.
Estimates of how many Venezuelans have left their home country during the tenures of former President Hugo Chavez and current leader Nicolas Maduro vary widely, with some opponents and academics putting the figure at 4 million. The Maduro government rubbishes that as an exaggeration.
Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien