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Former FARC members have also mobilized into a smaller and less-organized group that now operates in the area, adding to the complexity of the violence. These armed groups have committed egregious abuses that include killings, disappearances, sexual violence, child recruitment, and forced displacement.
To be sure, this violence has not been limited to Venezuelan migrants. As part of a Human Rights Watch fact-finding visit to the region, we interviewed a year-old former primary school teacher who told us about an afternoon earlier this year when he went to look for a ball that one of his students had kicked off the school grounds. The teacher said that he found the ball about 50 feet from where his students were playing.
When he went to pick it up, he stepped on what was most likely a landmine. The teacher lost his foot. This type of violence has forced over 40, people from the region to flee their homes since — most of them left last year. Some have been forcibly displaced after armed groups threatened them for allegedly cooperating with competing armed groups or the government.
Others have fled after being menaced for refusing to join an armed group themselves. We reviewed testimony given to state authorities by victims who said they had been threatened just for selling food to government soldiers. But Venezuelan migrants are especially vulnerable to abuse. Weak immigration controls and the possibility of finding work have attracted desperate and, in many cases, undocumented Venezuelans to the Catatumbo borderlands.
At least 25, Venezuelans currently live in the area. Some have been forcibly displaced and killed. There are reports that Venezuelan children have been recruited as soldiers in armed groups, and that Venezuelan migrants have been subject to sexual abuse. We spoke with local human rights and humanitarian groups, as well as residents and community members, who described how the armed bands are imposing their authority through terror.