Colombia: MSF provides medical and mental health care on the border with Venezuela

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is providing medical and mental health consultations to Colombians who have been deported or 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 1 September, MSF teams have conducted 33 medical consultations and 87 psychological sessions at the different shelters and hotels housing this group of people coming from Venezuela. In addition, psycho-educational activities and training for psychologists from the local health system are being carried out.

“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 who is currently in Cúcuta.   

One of the recently arrived Colombian patients who left Colombia in 2000 had to return alone because they 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. 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. It 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 giving training to community leaders, health promoters, midwives and teachers so that they can provide psychological first aid following an episode when they witness an episode of violence.