BOGOTA (Reuters) – Hundreds of Venezuelan migrants are camping in an array of tents along a major Bogota highway as they wait to make their way back home, even as tightening border restrictions strand returnees fleeing Colombia’s ongoing coronavirus lockdown.
Colombia’s migration agency says Venezuela has curbed daily entries by 80%, slowing the journeys of tens of thousands of migrants.
Migrants are heading home because quarantine measures have largely destroyed their means of making a living. More than 71,000 have so far returned.
Although their own country faces social and economic upheaval, returning Venezuelans said their lives will be better back home.
“Although the situation is worse there, we will have somewhere to live. We won’t sleep like this,” said Hilda Herrera, 63, gesturing to the tent where her family of five sleeps.
“We’ll go back with what we have to where we should never have left,” she said.
The camp, located on a grassy island and bordered by heavy traffic, has no amenities. Though at least one nearby supermarket allows migrants to use its toilets, they have to bathe in a ditch.
Some have camped for as long as two weeks as they await buses to the border.
City authorities say they have offered accommodation at shelters, more than 500 coronavirus tests and provided face masks and disinfectant.
Venezuela has restricted crossings to just three days a week, with around 400 migrants allowed back daily, Colombia’s migration agency said.
Venezuelan authorities did not respond to a request for comment.
Maria Rivero, 39, is traveling with her three-year-old granddaughter. She arrived in Colombia just two months ago to visit family and has been unable to return.
Rivero said she longs to see her husband and her father.
“It’s so hard to be away and be without family,” she said, sobbing.
(Reporting by Oliver Griffin, Andres Rojas and Camilo Cohecha; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)