Colombia tightens border controls as Venezuelan exodus grows

President Juan Manuel Santos firmed up controls as thousands of Venezuelans flooded into the country

epa06506275 A handout picture provided by the Presidency of Colombia, shows the president of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos (L) and Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin (R), talking to the press in Cucuta, Colombia, on 08 February 2018. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that Colombia has never had to face a situation like the massive arrival of Venezuelans fleeing the crisis that the oil country is experiencing.  EPA/Juan David Tena / Presidency of Colombia HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos announced a tightening of immigration controls as thousands of Venezuelans continue to pour over the border to escape a dire economic crisis and an increasingly authoritarian government.

Effective immediately, Colombia will cease to issue new migratory cards, which allow Venezuelans to cross the border freely without passing customs. Only existing card holders or those with valid passports will be able to enter Colombia, Mr Santos said on Thursday in the frontier city of Cucuta, which has become a hub for migrants fleeing Venezuela.

“There will be more control and more security at borders,” Mr Santos said, adding that 2,120 members of the Colombian military were being deployed to the area.

The two nations share a long, porous frontier that stretches over 1,300 miles from the Caribbean down through the Andes. For years, it has been common for residents to live in one country and work in another, but over recent months Colombia has struggled to cope with the influx of migrants as Venezuela’s economy collapses and president Nicolas Maduro cracks down on dissent.

On Saturday, Colombia opened its so-called temporary service centre on the outskirts of Cucuta. The facility, which provides food and lodging for 120 travellers for up to 48 hours, is administered by the Red Cross and the United Nations Migration Agency.

Almost 96,000 Venezuelans entered Colombia legally in November, more than double the amount in the same month of the previous year. Other Venezuelans have crossed the border with Brazil in recent years, with around 60,000 now living in Roraima state, according to local lawmakers.