Venezuela’s Ombudsperson Tarek Saab refuted Sunday the accusation that his country had deported refugees or Colombians with legal status, saying that the United Nations Refugee Agency has also been investigating the situation.
“The ombudsperson, together with UNHCR, has in the last 10 days has not documented a single case ... of a person with refugee status having been returned to Colombia,” said Saab, during a visit to the border state of Tachira together with representatives from UNHCR.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the border with Colombia close after paramilitaries attacked Venezuelan soldiers who were patrolling the border. Maduro also declared a state of exception in a handful of municipalities on the border in order to address the presence of paramilitaries within Venezuela's borders, who are involved in massive crimes, including smuggling of basic products and gasoline to Colombia.
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As part of the effort to stem paramilitary activity and their criminal activities, Colombians without legal status living in the border region have been repatriated to Colombia.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State suggested Saturday that Venezuela was deporting refugees. The Venezuelan government responded Sunday, calling on the United States to refrain from interfering in the ongoing talks between the Venezuela and Colombia into the closure of the border.
"Blatant lies have been told, what has happened is an action within the framework of the Constitution and the law,” said Saab.
The Venezuelan Ombudsperson expressed frustration over the coverage of the border crisis. Many private media outlets have tried to demonize the Venezuelan government over its actions.
"They never say (the border closure was done) because four Venezuelans, including three soldiers, were close to death as a result of the criminal activity in this sector, that fact never is heard as if these four Venezuelans were not valuable ... or have human rights," declared Saab.
Ombudsperson Saab also heavily criticized the comments made by Colombia’s Attorney General Alejandro Ordoñez, who said he would file a complaint with the International Criminal Court over the deportation of Colombians. Saab said that Ordoñez was unfamiliar with international law.
Ordoñez is an ally of former far-right Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who has also tried to take advantage of the situation on the border to attack the Venezuelan government. During a visit to the border region, Colombian Senator Ivan Cepeda said that many of those being repatriated were themselves victims of forced displacement at the hands of paramilitaries during the presidency of Uribe.
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"Venezuela has never had a permanent nor systematic attack against Colombians who live here, but rather quite the opposite,” said Saab.
Venezuela is home to more than 5 million Colombians and is host to the highest number of Colombian refugees in the region, totaling 173,600 according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Colombians with status enjoy all the benefits afforded to Venezuelans, including access to its generous social programs.
Venezuelan Vice President Jorge Arreaza said Sunday that there have been no new deportations of Colombian citizens in the past four days.