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Hungry, sick and increasingly desperate, thousands of Venezuelans are pouring into Colombia

Published: May 13, 2018
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Source: LA Times

For evidence that the Venezuelan migrant crisis is overwhelming this Colombian border city, look no further than its largest hospital.

The emergency room designed to serve 75 patients is likely to be crammed with 125 or more. Typically, two-thirds are impoverished Venezuelans with broken bones, infections, trauma injuries — and no insurance and little cash.

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The huge increase in Venezuelan migrants fleeing their country's economic crisis, failing healthcare system and repressive government is affecting the Cucuta metropolitan area more than any other in Colombia. It's where 80% of all exiting Venezuelans headed for Colombia enter as foreigners.

Despite turning away Venezuelans with cancer or chronic diseases, the hospital treated 1,200 migrant emergency patients last month, up from the handful of patients, mostly traffic collision victims, in March 2015, before the Venezuelan exodus started gathering steam.

The hospital's red ink is rising along with its caseload. The facility has run up debts of $5 million over the last three years to accommodate Venezuelans because the Colombian government is unable to reimburse it, said Juan Agustin Ramirez, director of the 500-bed hospital.

"The government has ordered us to attend to Venezuelan patients but is not giving us the resources to pay for them," Ramirez said. "The truth is, we feel abandoned. The moment could arrive when we will collapse."

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