Colombian health authorities have detected four coronavirus infections in three shelters set up for Venezuelan refugees
By Luis Jaime Acosta
ARAUQUITA MUNICIPALITY, Colombia, March 28 (Reuters) - Colombian health authorities have detected four coronavirus infections in three shelters in Arauquita set up for refugees who have fled clashes between the military and illegal armed groups in Venezuela, the local mayor said on Sunday.
Hundreds of Venezuelans are arriving in Colombia each day, worsening a humanitarian crisis spread across 18 makeshift shelters and forcing national, provincial and local authorities to team up with international organizations - such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) - to coordinate efforts.
"We're already beginning to see a new crisis, which we knew could happen, that the health crisis would begin to appear, with COVID cases that we hope will be controlled quickly and will not overwhelm us," Etelivar Torres, the mayor of Arauquita, told Reuters.
The flow of refugees began a week ago after Venezuela's National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) launched an offensive against illegal armed groups in La Victoria, a Venezuelan town in Apure province that is located across the Arauca River from Arauquita.
Refugees have accused the Venezuelan military of rights abuses, including killing civilians and looting houses.
Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez denied the accusations of abuses on Saturday, while Venezuela's chief prosecutor Tarek Saab said the events would be subject to an investigation.
While some 4,900 Venezuelan refugees have been registered in Arauquita so far, more are staying with friends and family, Torres said.
"We weren't prepared for something like this," the mayor said.
The UNHCR has started setting up 100 tents on a soccer field to house some 500 people, while the Red Cross is providing medical assistance to refugees.
"There are many needs and we are trying to respond jointly with the authorities at the national, departmental and municipal levels," said Roberto Mignone, the UNHCR's emergency response coordinator in the Americas. He said he expected the emergency would last for several weeks.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Oliver Griffin Editing by Paul Simao)
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