Santa Elena, September 29th, 2015. (venezuelanalysis.com)- According to a statement released Monday by the UNASUR, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro will allow Colombians who were deported during the August crackdown on border smuggling to return to the country and seek legal immigration status.
“The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, agreed that Colombian citizens deported during the border crisis between the two countries who wish to regularize their situation in Venezuela and return to that country, can do so with government assistance,” the statement affirmed.
The agreement stemmed from a meeting between UNASUR Secretary General and former Colombian president Ernesto Samper with the Venezuelan leader in New York, on the sidelines of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly.
Samper called Maduro’s agreement in the measure a “significant humanitarian gesture,” and said while no timeline currently exists for the return of deportees, UNASUR was working with both countries to coordinate efforts.
The Venezuelan leader closed parts of the 2,219 km land border with Colombia in mid-August after three soldiers were attacked by alleged paramilitaries.
The closures were subsequently expanded and over 300 soldiers were deployed to the region in an attempt to combat smuggling and organized crime pervasive in the frontier region.
During the first weekend of the offensive, over 1500 undocumented Colombians were deported primarily from the makeshift city and notorious smuggling hub, La Invasion, in Tachira state.
Hundreds of arrests were also made, including dozens of Venezuelan military officials associated with illicit border activity.
According to UN data, over 18,000 Colombians left the country of their own will in the following weeks.
The UNASUR Secretary General made clear that the measure of government assistance would only be extended to those Colombian citizens who were removed by authorities.
After a month-long diplomatic spat, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos met with his Venezuelan counterpart in Quito last week to normalize relations and declare their mutual commitment to fight drug traffic and general smuggling along the shared border.
A meeting is scheduled to take place tomorrow in Santa Marta, Colombia between Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez and his Colombian counterpart Luis Carlos Villegas to elaborate on those plans.