Saturday, July 2

Colombia: A historic decision to protect Venezuelan migrants | Opinion

Venezuelan migrants entering Colombia through Cúcuta, last February.
Venezuelan migrants entering Colombia through Cúcuta, last February.Mario Caicedo / EFE

More than five million Venezuelans have had to leave their country as a result of the humanitarian, political, social and economic disaster caused by the illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro. It is the second largest mass exodus in the world that, according to OAS estimates, could become the first in 2021, if the dictatorship in Venezuela continues.

Faced with this reality, under the leadership of President Iván Duque, Colombia has adopted a migration policy based on principles of humanity, solidarity and respect for human rights. We are the main recipient of migrants from Venezuela. Currently, 1.74 million Venezuelans, who arrived in the country in the last three years, have a vocation to remain in our territory; 983,000 of them are in irregular immigration status. Despite the fact that visas and residence permits have been issued to people with work or study, and their families, 56% of migrants have not regularized their situation.

In this context, President Iván Duque adopted the Temporary Protection Statute for Venezuelan migrants. It is the most significant decision in our immigration policy. With it, we aspire to give visibility to this population and guarantee their human rights.

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It is a measure that allows various achievements to build an orderly, safe and regular migration in the country. First, by generating the universal registry of migrants, it will allow to characterize this population and adequately focus the plans and resources of the State in a more effective response both in humanitarian assistance and in social policies. Second, the Statute generates legal recognition for migrants, which must allow them to materialize their rights and duties, their integration into the labor market, and access to health services, education, as well as other fields of care defined by the State.

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Migrants will also be able to have greater banking, generate entrepreneurship and continue contributing to the country’s economy. Likewise, the negative effects of irregular migration, such as labor informality, smuggling of migrants and human trafficking, among other problems, may be discouraged.

Thanks to innovative and dynamic outreach campaigns that accompany the Statute, Colombia also hopes to give visibility to migrants and work with host communities and the country in general, so that the contribution of these people to social life and to development of the Nation.

The world is closely watching the policy adopted by Colombia. The Statute is a historic decision for the region and the world. It is a message about the importance of closing spaces to discrimination or xenophobia with fraternal actions and human rights approaches. The success of this policy should generate good practice in the international context, which could be applied in other States that receive massive migrations.

To implement the Statute we have designed a process that begins with the registration of migrants as of May 5, 2021, and continues with the issuance of the special Permit for Temporary Protection, valid for up to 10 years. Its scope includes those who are in the country on a regular basis and those who enter complying with the immigration frameworks during the first two years of the instrument’s validity. For migrants in an irregular situation, the Statute will cover those who prove that they were in Colombia until January 31, 2021.

However, to successfully advance in this implementation, and to address the multiple challenges of Venezuelan migration, the cooperation of the international community is essential.

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Colombia is a middle-income country, and it makes enormous efforts to serve this population. More than 800,000 Venezuelans have accessed our health system and in the context of the pandemic, the universe of migrants can go to emergency care; more than 350,000 Venezuelan children study in our educational system; we have recognized the nationality of more than 50,000 children who were at risk of statelessness; Family protection institutions include Venezuelan children in food security programs. These are just some examples of a care that grows day by day and demands more resources. National capacities are at the limit, given the magnitude of the phenomenon.

The international community, through its Interagency Group that brings together 68 entities, including UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and members of the Red Cross Movement, contributes with humanitarian assistance and social support to vulnerable groups, in different cities of the country . It is an endorsement that must be increased and strengthened.

In June 2021, an International Donors Conference led by Canada, UNHCR and IOM will be held to support all countries that receive Venezuelan migrants. The Migration Response Plan seeks to mobilize 1,440 million dollars for the entire region, and of this, 641 million would be for actions in Colombia. In the context of the pandemic, global solidarity is urgent, given the evolution of a mass exodus that will continue to grow as long as the factors that originate it remain.

In this sense, it is also essential that the world strengthen international pressure and denounce it in different multilateral settings so that the dictatorship in Venezuela ends. This is the only real alternative to restore democracy, and rebuild the productive and social care systems destroyed by the illegitimate regime. And, above all, it is the essential condition to recover the validity of human rights and freedom in Venezuela, and to restore hope to a population that yearns to live with dignity in its own country.

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Claudia Blum is Minister of Foreign Relations of Colombia.

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