Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced this week that his country is prepared to welcome 20,000 Syrian refugees in a show of good faith towards Syrian leader Bashar Assad, a longtime Venezuelan ally.
“They are welcome to share this land of peace and contribute to our country’s development,” Maduro said in a meeting with his ministers Monday. The offer comes as Europe is crumbling under the weight of a massive influx of refugees from war-torn Syria.
Brazil and Chile have also pledged to accept refugees.
Maduro remains an ardent supporter of Assad, and has said he is "the only leader with authority in Syria." The Venezuelan government also stated that it has "played no part in the civil war by funding rebel groups." A host of mainly Sunni rebel groups are currently battling the Shiite-dominated Assad government for control of the country.
Venezuela's ties to Syria are decades deep. According to Foreign Policy magazine, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez visited Syria at least three times and established a nonstop flight between Caracas and Damascus. In 2012, Chávez reportedly sent multiple shipments of diesel fuel to the Syrian government.
Maduro's open-armed stance towards Syrian refugees is an ironic follow-up to his crackdown on Colombians living in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan leader blames Colombian immigrants for rampant smuggling; Colombian border cities depend on profits from smuggled gas and food from Venezuela, which is currently struggling with crushing state subsidies and price controls, as well as an overvalued currency. Smugglers bring cheap goods across the border to sell in Colombia, costing the Venezuelan economy billions of dollars per year and creating serious shortages.
This week, Maduro sent 3,000 troops to patrol a closed border crossing in the state of Zulia after smugglers injured soldiers and a civilian there. He declared a state of emergency in three different cities and has closed other stretches of the border.
Meanwhile, over 1,000 Colombians have been deported from Venezuela, their homes razed to the ground. According to Time, 17,000 Colombians who were living in Venezuela have fled back to Colombia due to persecution and mass arrests.
The Venezuelan government denies that it is attempting to reduce the numbers of Colombian migrants. According to a government press release, "The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has praised Venezuela for its efforts to support and integrate the almost 200,000 Colombian refugees living in Venezuela." Colombia's Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín traveled to New York and met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday to discuss the issue.
Around 1.5 million Venezuelans are of Arab descent, including some members of government.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story identified María Ángela Holguín as Venezuela's foreign minister. She is Colombia's foreign minister. It also misstated the date of the foreign minister's meeting with UN Chief Ban Ki-moon.