Colombia is by far the main destination for the Venezuelan diaspora. Its welcoming and flexible migratory policy in recent years, praised by the international community, has placed the country at the forefront of Latin America. However, while the Government of Gustavo Petro advances step by step in gradually normalizing its relations with neighboring Venezuela, after years of tensions, the issue of Venezuelan migration settled in the country loses strength among the priorities of the new Administration. .
It is a phenomenon of enormous dimensions. The official figures recently gave a new jump, another one, up to 2.5 million Venezuelans throughout the Colombian territory. The X-ray of Migration Colombia – published on the eve of the presidential inauguration, on August 7 – shows that migrants went from 1,842,390 in August 2021 to 2,477,588 in February of this year. Almost half a million have settled in Bogota, followed by Medellin (190,000) and the border Cucuta (167,000), the main city on a porous border line of more than 2,200 kilometers that has also become the funnel of one of the largest flows of people in the world.
There are already 6.8 million Venezuelans who have fled their country in successive waves, pushed by the political, social and economic crisis of recent years, with a significant increase in the last year, according to figures from R4V, the Inter-agency coordination platform for refugees and migrants from Venezuela. Most have dispersed throughout Latin America and the Caribbean; a huge portion of them have crossed moors and mountains, by bus, on foot or hitchhiking, in search of opportunities in Colombia, a phenomenon that the government of Nicolas Maduro often denies. Chavismo has come to disdain the diaspora as a propaganda exercise by the enemies of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Migration is not only important within the “normalization” of relations with Caracas that the Petro government has already launched. It is also among the issues to be discussed in the regional scenarios, where the first left-wing president in recent Colombian history aspires to a leading role. “There is expectation, on the part of local authorities and the international community, for the landing of the vision of the new Government regarding the socioeconomic integration of migrants from Venezuela,” says Andres Segura, a consultant on migration issues. “This population is already around 6% of the inhabitants in Colombia and according to different studies around 90% of them plan to stay in the country, even if conditions change in Venezuela,” he says.
The new president of Colombia must cooperate with international donors to improve the protection of Venezuelan migrants who arrive in the country, and help them access economic opportunities in order to avoid both fueling the cycle of xenophobia and ending up recruited by violent groups, he warned. a recent report by the International Crisis Group. Although the Government of Ivan Duque sheltered them with a Temporary Protection Statute for Venezuelan Migrants, one of his main legacies, many face extreme difficulties, have few resources to survive and feed the ranks of informality. The recovery of the economy of Venezuela, driven by the de facto dollarization of the country, opens the door for some of them to decide to return voluntarily, but the vast majority have a vocation to stay.
The issue lost the relevance it had had during the administrations of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) and Duque (2018-2022), says Ronal Rodriguez, a researcher at the Venezuela Observatory of the Universidad del Rosario, in Bogota. “The phenomenon of human mobility from Venezuela was one of the priorities of the State, and for President Petro, without a doubt, it is not. It was not part of his presidential speech, it has been a month without making a clear statement or giving guidance on what the reception dynamics will be, ”he points out. “The Colombian response was admirable, and it has been lost in an important way,” he concludes.
Migration has been “totally absent from the government’s actions in its first month of management,” to the point that it has not been officially announced who will be in charge of what until now had been the office for the integration of the population. migrant, which was known as the Border Management, agrees Txomin Las Heras, president of the Colombo-Venezuelan Citizen Dialogue association and associate researcher of the observatory. The attention to the phenomenon, which in previous governments was kept very close to the Presidency, aims to move to the Foreign Ministry, and that lessens its importance, he warns. The biggest concern, adds Las Heras, is that the issue of migration, similar to what happened with peace during the Duque period, is not a priority and is somehow forgotten.
In the framework of the restoration of relations, it has not occupied an important place either. “Taking into account the amount of Venezuelan migration in Colombia and Colombian migration in Venezuela, the issue has to be strategic. There has been talk of trade, of the border, ambassadors have been appointed, there has even been talk of consular relations, but nothing has been said about migration in particular,” says Las Heras. President Petro has been very clear that he will respect the status of Venezuelan refugees, he adds, but on the Venezuelan side there has been a lot of insistence on seeking the extradition of political opponents. “It is an issue that keeps us alert.”
In other times, it was the Colombians who massively crossed that porous border to settle in Venezuela during the harshest decades of the armed conflict. The newly appointed ambassador in Caracas, Armando Benedetti, affirms that the migratory situation of Colombians “occupies a priority place on the agenda for the reestablishment of relations with Venezuela.” There are more than four million “who were left in a state of total abandonment due to a situation that should never have occurred between two sister countries,” says the now diplomat, who was very close to President Petro during the election campaign. This Thursday, hand in hand with the Foreign Ministry, the ambassador held the first meeting of the Inter-institutional Unit for the Reactivation of Relations with Venezuela, in which thematic tables were agreed on the most urgent matters that will necessarily be crossed by migratory attention, explains to this newspaper.
“We are also working for the Venezuelans who live in Colombia. Both because of pendulum migration, which moves between our borders every day, and that very soon, thanks to the reopening of the border, they will be able to do so in better conditions, as well as because of those migrants who come to our country to settle and contribute to development”, Benedetti assures. The government, he points out, has care routes and protocols that allow Venezuelans to regularize in Colombia. “As President Petro has said, Colombia guarantees the right to asylum and refuge; and for those Venezuelans who want to return to their country voluntarily, we will find a way to achieve it in a short time”, he reiterates.
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Source: EL PAIS