Colombia (MNN) — Each day, thousands of new faces merge into Colombian society. While an estimated 45,000 people cross the border each day and then return to their home in Venezuela, UNHCR reports, “up to 5,000 of them remain in Colombia or continue their journeys in search of safety and a new life.”
According to an in-depth summary by BBC News, 3 million people have left Venezuela since 2014. Colombia has taken in the most Venezuelan migrants of any South American country. Officials announced earlier this week more than 1.2 million Venezuelans are being integrated into Colombian society. The total could reach up to 4 million by 2021.
UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, claims most people fleeing Venezuela need international refugee protection.
Sound familiar? In 2013, Lebanon began bearing the brunt of neighboring Syria’s refugee crisis. The Syrian refugee population grew to 1 million in 2014 from a mere 10,000 in 2012. Today, Lebanon hosts “the largest number of refugees per capita,” according to UNHCR.
Is Colombia the next Lebanon?
While similar, key differences separate Colombia’s refugee situation from that of Lebanon.
First of all, Colombia has more room. South America’s fourth-largest country has 439,736 square miles of total land area, whereas Lebanon has only 4,014 square miles. Secondly, Colombia has more capital; the national GDP is $309.2 billion USD. By comparison, Lebanon’s GDP is $51.84 billion USD, and leaders are grappling with austerity measures.
This doesn’t mean Colombia is challenge-free. Conflict and violence continue despite a 2016 peace deal. As noted last year, coca production has reached its highest level since the UN began keeping records. Coca is cocaine’s base ingredient, so – theoretically – more coca means more cocaine.
Colombian resources and personnel dedicated to fighting these vices could be strained by the influx of Venezuelan refugees. Support from groups like AMG International is essential.
In 2015, God equipped AMG International to meet needs in Jesus’s name at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis as desperate migrants began making their way to Europe through Greece. He appears to be doing the same thing now in Colombia.
How to help kids in crisis
AMG’s Bill Passons says vulnerable children on the outskirts of Cali, Colombia – including Venezuelan refugee children – are receiving care at the ministry’s new child development center. The program gets kids off the streets and out of harm’s way.
“We’ve been actually praying about starting a work in Colombia for a couple of years…. It just happened to be the right time in God’s provision.”
As they prayed for an opportunity to serve the Lord in Colombia, Passons says AMG leaders sought like-minded organizations with a local presence. God answered those prayers by connecting AMG with their current partner, a ministry in Palmas del Mirador. This group was seeking a partner with experience in Gospel-centered, evangelistic child and youth ministry – a criteria AMG met perfectly. More about AMG’s youth focus here.
Passons says, “[Our] desire is to go into some of these communities where people are moving; either refugees from [places] like Venezuela who’ve come across borders, or people who’ve come from rural areas and [are] coming to the city of Cali looking for work.”
Through the new center, AMG and its local partners bring the hope and love of Christ to kids surrounded by violence and poverty.
“When you live a day-to-day life and your primary focus is survival, it’s hard to look ahead to the future. It’s hard to care about education when you’re not sure what you’re going to be able to eat the next day,” Passons observes.
“It’s hard to dream about what you want to be in life when you’re worried about just existing.”
As described here, Gospel workers operate a comprehensive program tailored to meet the community’s needs. For six days every week, kids escape their surroundings to a world of Bible lessons, discipleship, nutritional food, and education.
“What we want to do is share the love of Christ, show them opportunities, and give them hope that their life can be different.”
AMG began helping 50 kids in January, but they need sponsors to support this work long-term. Click here to sponsor a child in Colombia.
In the header image, Venezuelans wade across the Tachira River to seek food and other aid in Cúcuta, Colombia. Caption and photo © UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau. Photo obtained for use under terms described here.