Turkey helps Venezuelan refugee women in Colombia

YUSUF SELMAN İNANÇ @yusufsinanc
ISTANBUL
Published 18.08.2017 20:46

TİKA, in cooperation with the Colombian Foreign Ministry, has launched a project in Cucuta, Colombia, where Venezuelans have fled, offering women the chance to gain the skills they need to make a living

The oil-rich Latin American country of Venezuela has been dragged into a deadly conflict since nationwide protests were organized against the election of a new Constituent Assembly that aims to rewrite the constitution. The elections were held last July under the shadow of violence in Venezuela. While the number of deaths is unknown due to lack of information, hundreds of thousands of people are being forced to leave their homeland. In Cucuta, Colombia, Turkey is ready to aid the Venezuelan women who left their country, offering vocational training and education in order to assist them in starting their lives in Colombia. The project is being put into effect by the Colombian Foreign Ministry, the Cucuta Chamber of Commerce and the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA).

The socialist and anti-American Latin American country with a wealth of natural resources has been subjected to heavy sanctions and embargos by Western countries, primarily the U.S., as the people slip into poverty and the basic needs of civilians, including the supply of durable goods, worsens the already dire situation. As protestors resort to looting local markets, gas stations and banks, the Venezuelan government has deployed a military presence on the streets and the unrest seems to have no end in sight. Several reports coming from the conflict-ridden country claim that dozens of people are being killed in the streets. In the latest wave of violence, 37 people were killed in a clash between inmates and security forces in a prison located in Puerto Ayacucho. It is also being reported that the city's morgue has been overwhelmed with bodies. "The facility in Puerto Ayacucho housed only about 110 inmates, all of them awaiting trial, and wasn't likely to have seen the same volatile conditions we have witnessed elsewhere in the country's prisons," Al-Jazeera reported last week.

In addition to the internal conflict, statements made by the U.S President Donald Trump in which he indicated that he would not rule out a possible military operation against the country have escalated the tensions as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro last month ordered the armed forces to conduct military exercises.

Amid the conflict, hundreds of thousands of people had to flee to neighboring Colombia where a brighter future has not welcomed them. Unconfirmed reports claim dozens have been killed and many have started seeking refuge in Brazil and Colombia. Although numbers have not been verified, it is estimated that the number of displaced people varies between 50,000 and 1.2 million. In an attempt to reach out to refugee women in Colombia, TİKA has launched a project to teach sewing and design. According to a statement TİKA made to Daily Sabah, "Textile machines and computers for designing will be supplied in order to launch the manufacturing process so that the economic state of women who have been negatively affected by migration and forced to undertake the economic burden of their families, will be bettered. By doing so, these women will economically contribute to the society and become part of it." The statement went on to read, "A total of 15 women will be given opportunity to build their own business and 44 children, under the guardianship of these women, will have a chance for a brighter future," the statement read.

Underlining the significance and fragility of the ongoing peace process in Colombia, the statement underlined the difficulties that are being faced in border areas due to the lack of security and control. By launching this project, TIKA also aims to stabilize the peace process and prevent it from being harmed by illegal activities such as drug trafficking, which is seen generally in border areas.

Mehmet Özkan, an associate professor at the Turkish National Police Academy and director of TİKA's Bogota branch, told Daily Sabah: "This is TİKA's first and pilot project for Venezuelan refugees. It will not be the last as it is a part of Turkey's foreign policy to aid people who seek help. TİKA conveys the hospitality of the Turkish people, even to Venezuela." Drawing attention to the fact that the project aims to assist women who need to make a living on their own, he said the aid projects must go further than mere "assistance." One of the participants in the project, known as Palacio, expressed her gratitude to Turkey and its people, saying that she had hope for future now. Similarly, Ana, who fled from the violence in Venezuela, said she was happy to have the chance to be manufacturing goods and to be able to look after her children.Özkan reiterated that relations between Colombia and Turkey have begun to develop immediately as the two countries have common points for learning from each other. In May, a Colombian envoy visited Turkey to investigate the latter's efforts in accommodating the Syrian refugees whose number has exceeded 4 million in the country. Colombia faces a serious refugee problem with neighboring Venezuela since approximately 7 million people have been displaced. The Latin American country asked for help from Turkey in dealing with the issue to tackle its growing refugee problem.

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