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More than half a million Venezuelans have fled to Colombia

© AFP | Venezuelan Jhonger Pina, 25, offers worthless Bolivar bills in exchange for coins at a Bogota bus station. More than half a million Venezuelans have fled to Colombia in the past year due to their country's political and economic crisis

BOGOTA (AFP) - 

More than half a million Venezuelans have taken refuge in Colombia to escape the crippling economic crisis in their country, Bogota's migration authority said Friday.

It said the number of Venezuelans entering the country -- 550,000 -- had increased by 62 percent in the last year.

Venezuela's crisis "has not only forced thousands of nationals to return to Colombia, but also caused Venezuelans to see our country ... as a means to transit to other destinations, to settle or to purchase essential products," said Migration Colombia director Christian Kruger.

The South American neighbors share a 2,200 kilometer (1,370-mile) border.

Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas told foreign correspondents earlier this week that the government has assumed the cost of its "policy of openness and solidary" up to now.

"We have offered emergency medical care and school for all Venezuelans," he said.

However, he warned that Colombia "has limitations if these migratory processes escalate."

The migration authority said some 1.3 million people had registered for a border mobility card which allows them to travel between the two countries.

The authority said 37,000 people used the card to criss-cross the border on a daily basis in 2017 to buy food and medicine, amid severe shortages in Venezuela.

Apart from the 550,000 Venezuelans who remain in Colombia, another 231,000 traveled through the country en route to Ecuador last year.

The Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos has accused Venezuela's socialist President Nicolas Maduro of installing a dictatorship, and has offered refuge to his opponents.

UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres said on a recent visit to Colombia that the United Nations was willing to send more aid to help Bogota cope with the influx of migrants.

© 2018 AFP