Colombia 'to reunite families in Venezuela border crisis'

image copyrightAFP
image captionBorder crossings between Venezuela and Colombia remains closed in Tachira province

Colombia is to offer citizenship to Venezuelan relatives of Colombians who have been deported from Venezuela, officials say.

It is the latest move by the Colombian government to ease a crisis triggered by Venezuela's closure of a key stretch of their mutual border.

More than 1,000 Colombians have been deported from Venezuela as part of a crackdown on smuggling in the area.

Some complained about being separated from their Venezuelan spouses.

Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said that the government wanted to help those Venezuelans married to Colombians who wanted to move to Colombia.

"We're going to give them Colombian citizenship, we want families to live together, not to break them apart," she told Colombian radio on Sunday.

Smugglers' haven

Many Colombians have settled on the Venezuelan side of the border and married Venezuelans and had children there.

image copyrightReuters
image captionThousands of Colombians are staying in shelters after leaving Venezuela

The 2,200km-long border (1,400 miles) between the two countries is porous and there has historically been a steady flow of people both ways.

But increasing price disparities between goods on either side of the border have generated a thriving smuggling business.

Venezuela's socialist government subsidises many basic food items and petrol in the oil-rich nation is extremely cheap.

image copyrightAFP
image captionPetrol is smuggled from Venezuela to Colombia and sold there at a huge profit

Smugglers can make an easy profit buying subsidised goods cheaply in Venezuela and selling them at much higher prices in Colombia.

The Venezuelan government estimates that up to 40% of subsidised goods are lost to smuggling, exacerbating shortages.

The area is also a haven for criminal groups which slip across the border to evade capture.

State of emergency

Following an incident two weeks ago in which three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian were injured by smugglers on the Venezuelan side of the border, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of the border near the town of Cucuta.

He also announced a state of emergency in a number of border provinces, allowing officials to search homes without a warrant.

Venezuelan security forces have since deported more than 1,000 Colombians they said were living in the area illegally.

image copyrightReuters
image captionVenezuelan security forces demolished houses as part of their anti-smuggling crackdown

More than 7,000 others have crossed back into Colombia out of fear of deportations, according to Colombian officials.

Some said they had been mistreated by the Venezuelan security forces.

Colombia is planning to bring the issue before regional bodies Organization of American States and Unasur this week.

On Friday, Colombia recalled its ambassador to Venezuela in protest, which was reciprocated by the Venezuelans recalling their ambassador.

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