Thousands of Venezuelans flee to Colombia amid violence on border

Venezuela’s military says it is fighting Colombian armed groups in rural areas, Colombia says people ‘forcibly displaced’.

Video Transcript

ALESSANDRO RAMPIETTI: They escaped carrying whatever they could from their battered homes. 4,000 Venezuelans are seeking shelter in Colombia's border town, Arauquita, following days of clashes and bombings between Venezuela's military and a Colombian armed rebel group. Many say the Venezuelan soldiers were abusive during the attack.

INTERPRETER: It was very painful to see how the soldiers aimed a gun at a mother. The government is taking away our lives. In one house, a grandfather died, an eight-year-old boy died, a nine-year-old girl, and her mom. The situation was terrible.

ALESSANDRO RAMPIETTI: Among the refugees are Indigenous people, children, seniors, and sick people. They're being hosted in makeshift camps that are overwhelming the capacity of this small town to help them. And more arrive every day.

ETELIVAR TORRES VARGAS: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

INTERPRETER: In the last 36 hours, another 800 people arrived and have been screened. But our capacity to respond to this wave of migration, this humanitarian displacement, has already been exceeded.

ALESSANDRO RAMPIETTI: These are the few available pictures of the aftermath of one of the attacks inside Venezuela. The Venezuelan government says two soldiers died in the operation, and at least 32 people were arrested, blaming Colombia for its failure to control the armed groups operating at the border.

HECTOR ZAMBRANO: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

INTERPRETER: Our Bolivarian military forces are hitting drug trafficking organizations that are useful to the Colombian government and the North American empire in their continued assault on Venezuela.

ALESSANDRO RAMPIETTI: A river separates the two countries that have cut diplomatic relationships in 2019.

The Colombian government has repeatedly accused Venezuela of harboring in their territory residual rebel groups from Colombia, such as the ELN and dissidents of the former FARC. But some experts believe that this latest fighting show that the relationship between Venezuela and at least some of these groups is now breaking down.

CAMILO GONZALES POSSO: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

INTERPRETER: Old and new guerrilla groups are operating in Venezuela, fighting to control coltan mining, gold, and cocaine trafficking. The fact that they're fighting each other, recruiting children, and threatening people has broken a fragile balance. And the Venezuelan government's tolerance of their activities is what's forced them to intervene.

Colombia announced it has increased the number of troops at the border to 2,000. Locals say clashes continue on the Venezuelan side in an escalation that promises to further inflame tensions in an already volatile situation. Alessandro Rampietti, Al Jazeera, Bogota.