Hundreds of Colombians living in Venezuela fled their homes on Tuesday, choosing to leave the country with their belongings rather than be deported empty-handed like many other Colombians who have already been forced to leave.
People crossed the waist-deep river that forms the border between the two countries with their belongings on their backs, including refrigerators, livestock and mattresses.
A 25-year-old Colombian woman, Rosana Morena said "We left at 3:00am in the clothes we were wearing. We wanted to comeback before they deported us."
Another Colombian, 26-year-old Darwin Arenas said he and his wife carried their belongings across the river in a wheelbarrow. "I feel impotent. I want to cry. I lost everything overnight," he said.
Most of the refugees were living in the extremely poor border village Ernesto Guevara, before their homes were marked with “D” for “demolition” or “R” for “relocated” by Venezuelan soldiers.
Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, ordered two main border crossings to close for 72 hours last week, following an attack on a military patrol by unidentified assailants A civilian and three soldiers were wounded in the attack.
President Maduro later extended the closure indefinitely, accusing Colombia of waging "an attack on Venezuela's economy."
Maduro claims the gunmen were paramilitaries linked to former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and stated that he is only fighting against smugglers and paramilitaries.
Many families claim Venezuelan soldiers rob them of their belongings and ask them to leave immediately. A Colombian ombudsman said 207 deportees were recorded to have been mistreated by the Venezuelan police.
Luz Nelsi, a 36-year-old single mother of three daughters whose home was among the marked said "The National Guard came and said we had 72 hours to get out or they would demolish our house. Do we look like paramilitaries?"
While Maduro says they will uphold human rights principles, Colombia declares more than 1,000 people were deported last week. Around 400 of them stay with relatives, while over 600 people stay in shelters near the Colombian border. A total of 1,772 people were deported by Venezuela last year.
Maria Velazco, a Venezuelan woman who helped her neighbours pack what little they had before they left said “This is like when the Jews houses were marked with stars in Germany."
Venezuelan government asserts that their decision was taken to protect Venezuelan economy, which is facing a downturn due to tumbling oil prices.
“We are only responsible for protecting people who are Venezuelan," National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello announced.