UNHCR meets with Colombian and Venezuelan officials
Geneva - At their respective requests, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Operations George Okoth-Obbo met with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia HE Maria Angela Holguín, on 7 September, and with the Ombudsman of Venezuela Mr. Tarek William Saab, on 8 September to discuss the recent deportations of Colombians from Venezuela. The officials briefed the Assistant High Commissioner on the challenges on both sides of the border and on the measures each government is taking to address the humanitarian situation and ensure the protection of the people affected by the border crisis.
Assistant High Commissioner Okoth-Obbo expressed the hope that both Governments can work together to resolve the situation in the border areas. He reiterated that UNHCR will continue to work constructively with both Governments to ensure that the rights of refugees and asylum seekers are respected. In this connection, Mr. Okoth-Obbo also reiterated UNHCR's appreciation for the assurances by Venezuela that no refugees or asylum-seekers will be deported and that if any of them were accidentally caught up in the deportations, he or she would be allowed to return. UNHCR will also continue to work with the Colombian authorities, as well as with partners, to register and assist the people who are arriving from Venezuela, and to identify if any of them may be in need of international protection.
On 19 August, the Venezuelan authorities declared a state of emergency for municipalities in the northwestern states of Venezuela, which included the deportation of undocumented Colombians in these areas. Since then, 1,467 Colombians are reported to have been deported and another 18,000 have returned on their own due to the situation, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The majority of the returnees and deportees have arrived in the Colombian department of Norte de Santander, with smaller numbers arriving in Arauca, La Guajira and Vichada Departments.