Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is providing medical and mental health consultations to Colombians who have been deported or who have returned in recent weeks from Venezuela to the city of Cúcuta and the municipality of Villa del Rosario, in the department of Norte de Santander, Colombia. Thousands of people have come to these border cities, where there are about 3,000 people located in 20 or so temporary shelters.
Since September 1, MSF teams have conducted 33 medical consultations and 87 psychological sessions at the different shelters and hotels that are housing this group of people. In addition, MSF is also carrying out psycho-educational activities and training for psychologists from the local health system.
“We are observing factors associated with having to live in shelters, such as stress from the rupture of daily habits and the lack of opportunities and employment,” says Nestor Rubiano, MSF’s mental health advisor in Cúcuta.
One of the recently arrived Colombian patients, who left Colombia in 2000, had to return alone because authorities wouldn’t let her children, who were born in Venezuela, into the country. Hers is one of the many families currently divided between the two countries. “They are there with their dad," she says. "I’m trying to keep busy at this shelter, to do something because if I don’t, I go crazy from thinking so much about my children. Look what’s happening to us—we have to come back with nothing, like we left.”
MSF has worked in Colombia since 1985, and is currently working in the departments of Cauca and Nariño. In Cauca, MSF teams provide individual and group therapy in hospitals and communities. MSF is also training community leaders, health promoters, midwives, and teachers to provide psychological first aid following episodes of violence.