A half-hour before dawn, the pedestrian bridges that connect the Venezuelan towns of San Antonio and Ureña with the Colombian city of Cúcuta begin to fill with people. The traffic is circular, as it has been for years, with large numbers crossing in both directions — but those headed into Colombia are greater in number.
Venezuelans crossing the border are easily distinguished by their luggage. Many drag rolling suitcases behind them, bulging at the edges; others lug duffel bags and cardboard boxes on their shoulders. Some even have their cats and dogs in pet carriers.
In January, 47,095 Venezuelans entered Colombia, more than double the number from January of last year. Some 21,000 of them crossed into Norte de Santander, the state of which Cúcuta is the capital. Here and at other points along the nearly 1,400-mile border, the situation is beginning to feel like a refugee crisis.
Marcelo Mirena, a young man in crisp, clean clothing who crossed the bridge with a black suitcase in one hand and a satchel over his shoulder, said he planned to spend at least three weeks in Colombia. If it seemed feasible to find work, he would stay permanently.
“The situation is getting out of hand for us,” Mirena said. “Very few Venezuelans have jobs anymore. We don’t have much of a choice.”
As Venezuela’s economic and social crisis has reached a boiling point in recent weeks, with enormous and increasingly violent protests and President Nicolás Maduro descending further into authoritarianism, migration into Colombia has too begun to reach crisis levels. (In the past two years Maduro has intermittently closed the border with Colombia to prevent people from exchanging currency, importing groceries, or smuggling gasoline and other contraband. The border remains closed to vehicle traffic but has been open to foot traffic since August.)
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