About 4,700 Venezuelans have been displaced to neighbouring Colombia during the past week, according to Colombian government figures, after the Venezuelan military launched an operation against armed groups near the border.
The Venezuelan military launched an operation last weekend against fighters belonging to what it described as “irregular Colombian armed groups“.
The operation began in La Victoria, a Venezuelan town across the Arauca River from Arauquita, in Apure state in the country’s southwest.
The Venezuelan defence ministry said on Saturday that six fighters from those Colombian armed groups had been killed in the fighting, while 39 others had been taken into custody. Two Venezuelan soldiers have also died in the operation.
The ministry said “weapons, grenades, ammunition, explosives, uniforms, vehicles, drugs and technological equipment containing information on their activities” had also been seized since Sunday.
Many Venezuelans took boats across the river to escape the fighting, and some have since accused the military of human rights abuses, including the ransacking of homes and even extrajudicial killings.
“They raided our house and took everything from us,” Jose Castillo, who arrived in Colombia told the Reuters news agency.
“When they arrived they broke everything, the doors; they entered and took everything I had in the house, the workshop.”
At least 18 shelters have been set up in the Colombian town so far.
Colombian government also created a command post with the United Nations refugee agency and other humanitarian aid groups to provide food and other assistance to the displaced people, many of whom left their homes with just the clothes on their backs.
Colombia’s interior minister said the country is planning for shelters to remain in place for at least two weeks “because they don’t know how long the military campaign will continue inside Venezuela.”
The Venezuelan government has said the situation is under control and people can go home, but many at the shelter said they do not trust those assurances,