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Colombian refugee returns the favour to Venezuelans in need

Colombia / Freedom for Peace / 3 oct 2017

Fourteen years ago, Angelica Lamos Ballesteros fled her home in Colombia after gun-toting guerrilla rebels stormed her area. She crossed the border to Venezuela with just a bag of clothes, but found a warm welcome there and was able to make a life and raise a family.

Yet a little more than a decade later she was forced to return to Colombia after the Venezuelan government ordered the deportation of refugees from the border regions. Some 20,000 Colombians who had left during the country's long civil war were sent back to their home country. Meanwhile, Venezuelans have also been fleeing from inflation, food and medicine shortages and widespread violence. Many of these Venezuelans have crossed the border into Colombia - where Angelica has opened them with open arms.

She has opened her home to refugees and offered them food, shelter and practical help with resettling and finding work. 'I know what it's like to have to leave it all behind', she says. 'People arrive here with nothing, so the priority is to give them somewhere to stay. We have about ten Venezuelans living here. Some people stay one month, or three months, until they can stand on their own two feet.'

Angelica charges a nominal rent of $1 per month to her tenants, and understands that they cannot always pay even this. She also organises a monthly community lunch, which is free of charge.

For Angelica, the decision to open up her home was a simple one. 'We are all human beings,' she says. 'And we all have rights.'