Araquita, Colombia – When Venezuelan military helicopters began firing and bombs began to explode, Ianet Garcia fled his home. Within hours of being reunited with his family, he crossed the Colombian border safely.
Garcia, 40, of La La Victoria on the Venezuelan border, had to be accompanied by his 72-year-old father from their small farm. “Let them kill me,” he shouted at her, but finally expressed annoyance.
“I was on a nervous rake. We left for fear of dying. I had no idea what was going on. We just left and walked for an hour,” said Garcia from a makeshift shelter in the Colombian city of Arauquita, where Separated from Venezuela by 328-yards (300-meters). The water expands.
The elite Venezuelan military unit, known as the FANB, and the Colombian rebel dissident groups have been engaged in intense and continuous armed clashes since March 21 in several small border towns in the state of Apu.
Tensions escalate as border clashes between left-wing Venezuela and right-wing Colombian governments escalate. Colombia has accused the Venezuelan government of collaborating with former members of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FRC) who rejected a 2016 peace deal involving drug trafficking. Venezuela blames Colombia for managing these Colombian warlords in its territory.
More than 5,000 civilians have fled across the Arakua River to Colombia, where about 19 temporary humanitarian shelters have been set up to help them.
People began fleeing after the FANB’s violent crackdown began on March 21, where they conducted house-to-house searches, suggesting they were working with opposition FARC groups in the area.
Local civilians were alleged to be collaborators. Many were beaten and imprisoned, and murders were reported.
Human Rights Watch researchers say there is ample evidence of extrajudicial killings of three men and one woman during the military offensive.
Most of the refugees – mostly poor cocoa farmers – witnessed what happened.
“We don’t understand this fight … it’s the innocent people who provide it,” said Julia Mattus, tired of sitting on the concrete basketball court floor used as a temporary shelter and sitting on the mattress. On the first day of the operation, the Venezuelan military beat and arrested her son.
“They took him down the street and we never saw or heard of him again,” he said. “There were explosions, helicopters, planes, people were fleeing. In my 66 years of life I have never experienced this before. “
Most of those who fled are poor farmhands, who do not understand what the sudden excitement of the conflict is. They said they wanted to get their crops and livestock back but were concerned about the constant explosions they heard in the distance.
With wrinkled skin and hands pruned from arthritic nodes from years of hard labor, 55-year-old Kako and farmer Nepo Essencia sit on a stool inside the shelter. Next to him are two pet parrots in a branch.
“For Venezuelans right now, anything to do with Colombia is related to guerrilla groups,” he said. He worries that soon he will not be able to return to his animals and crops.
The tent sea in one of the large shelters is home to 310 families or about 753 people. Approximately 1000 children and more than 100 pregnant or lactating women have been plotted in stadiums, other sports facilities and camps located in schools.
The children play among the frustrated adults, who live close to each other in tents. Many bring their pets, which are kept with them outside the shelter or in their tents.
During the interviews with Al-Jazeera, people trembled with fear and anxiety, the sound of loud explosions was often heard.
“While Colombia and Venezuela are fighting these operations and blaming each other, what we see is thousands of Venezuelans desperately fleeing to the uncertain conflict zone of Colombia, in the midst of epidemics, in areas that are bad – equipped to take care of them.” Gimena Sanchez, the Andes director of the office, told Al Jazeera.
“In just two years, the talk of peace between the two countries came to a head, with Colombia blaming Venezuela internationally for its own conflict and Venezuela taking tough, tough security measures,” he said. .
Dozens of humanitarian agencies and government entities are on the ground to provide assistance. On March 31, Venezuelan and Colombian rights groups called on the United Nations to appoint a special envoy to resolve the humanitarian crisis on the border.
Not all who fled are Venezuelans. During a five-decade-long conflict between left-wing FARC fighters, paramilitary forces and the government, many Colombians fled to the Venezuelan border town for protection. Now history is repeating itself to some, such as Gyro Gomez, 44, whose family fled violence in Venezuela when he was ten years old in Colombia.
Like hundreds of others, he decided not to go to the shelter because he was afraid of the crowds. Instead, he, friends and acquaintances, saw their home in Venezuela and made their own temporary settlement on the banks of the river Colombia. They extended the small abandoned house with wood and tin sheets using plastic tarpaulins for the wall.
Inside the rich man’s dormitory, about 50 people rest on foam mattresses and old furniture. They said they were tired and frustrated that they could not just cross the river and return home. Children, toddlers, teenagers and the elderly live side by side with dogs, chickens and cats.
Gomez and his family fled when the bombing began. As soon as he left to retrieve his belongings, he briefly returned to his home. He said the Venezuelan military had attacked it and taken something worthless.
“My God, it’s nervous. He worked so hard, to build a house, to buy things for it, for the army to come and do it, “he told Al Jazeera.
“What we don’t understand is why the ‘legitimate’ or ‘revolutionary’ government thinks it is right to attack civilians who have done nothing. We are living here for fear of any conflict but we thought it would be between them [the Venezuelan and Colombian governments] … not our citizens. “
Gomez said the sound of fighting in the nearby Apur kingdom reminded him of his family, which he had left behind.
“It’s tough, because I still have one sister and I’m afraid they’ll go to her and her family. I pray to God that it doesn’t happen. “