BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A couple pushing their 6-month-old twins in a stroller. A family with their life’s belongings stuffed into one large cloth sack. Young boys and girls sleeping beneath makeshift tents, their mouths covered with face masks.
These are some of the thousands of Venezuelans who fled their homeland hoping for a brighter future abroad and are now trying to get back home.
A severe economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic has dashed the dreams of countless Venezuelans who fled their crisis-torn country in what had been one of the largest mass migrations anywhere in recent years.
Now Colombia migration authorities estimate nearly 75,000 have made the journey back, traveling tiring miles by foot and bus. Many are arriving at the border crossing in the city of Cucuta only to find they will have to wait longer: Authorities in Venezuela allow only a few hundred to enter and just on three days a week.
In recent weeks, hundreds have built an encampment in Colombia’s capital, using black plastic tarps for makeshift tents. The migrants in Bogota are waiting to be bused to the border. Officials are trying to avoid a sudden massing of people at the border crossing, a potential public health hazard.
Colombia Migration Director Juan Espinosa said about 15,000 Venezuelans nationwide are trying to make their way back home. That is a small slice of the estimated 1.8 million Venezuelans now living in Colombia.
The government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro claims a number of that country's coronavirus infections stem from returning migrants. Colombia’s government says it is trying to ensure their right to return to their homeland.
For now, the stranded travelers wait in chilly Bogota, bundled up in coats and blankets as the night sets in.
Like many, Darwin Herrera lost his job loading goods on and off trucks after migrating with his wife to Bogota two years ago. Now they don’t have cash to pay for a bus ride and are left with their infant twins hoping for a helping hand.
“I want to get back to Venezuela because I don’t want this life for our twins,” he said.