• February 4, 2023

Venezuelan Migrants Welcome Colombia’s New Open-Door Policy : NPR

Venezuelan migrants take a lunch break at the gooseberry farm where they work on the outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia. John Otis for NPR hiding caption

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John Otis for NPR

Venezuelan migrants take a lunch break at the gooseberry farm where they work on the outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia.

John Otis for NPR

BOGOTA, Colombia – Isaias Bello has been in legal limbo since fling Venezuela three years ago to escape a socialist dictatorship and the country’s worst economic collapse.

Isaias Bello, a 26-year-old Venezuelan migrant, makes a living picking gooseberries on a farm outside Bogotá. With the new program for undocumented Venezuelan migrants, “Colombia offers us a great opportunity,” he says. “I feel very, very happy.” John Otis for NPR hiding caption

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John Otis for NPR

As an undocumented migrant in neighboring Colombia, he feared being deported, while employers often benefited from it. He recalls working 10-hour shifts on a construction site for about $ 8 a day, far less than the minimum wage of about $ 12 a day. In other cases, migrants worked in exchange for food.

For this reason, Bello was delighted when Colombian President Iván Duque unveiled a program this month to allow undocumented Venezuelan migrants to legally live and work in Colombia for up to 10 years.

“Colombia offers us a great opportunity,” says 26-year-old Bello, who now makes a living picking gooseberries on a farm outside Bogotá. “I feel very, very happy.”

Many of his fellow migrants too. Of 5.4 million Venezuelans Almost 2 million people who have left their country in the past six years have relocated to Colombia. About half of these newcomers have no legal status because they entered Colombia via smuggling routes because they lacked passports and other documents required for legal entry.

Duque said his new measure will help Colombian authorities vaccinate Venezuelans against the coronavirus, keep an eye on migrants and deport those involved in crimes. He promised that it would be easier for migrants to provide their children with access to health care and schooling.

Colombia provides temporary legal status to nearly 1 million Venezuelan migrants

In addition, Colombia will benefit from Venezuela’s brain drain as newly arrived doctors, teachers and engineers can now continue their careers there.

This open door policy reminding of the way German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed an influx of refugees from 2015, was praised by the Biden government and Pope Francis. Filippo Grandi, Head of the UN Refugee Agency, called it “One of the most important humanitarian gestures” in South America for more than three decades.

But there are also financial considerations for Colombia. Duque said he expected his policies will lead to more foreign aid to deal with the migrant crisis, which is expected to worsen. The International Monetary Fund predicts that by the end of 2023 there will be as many as possible 10 million The Venezuelans will have fled their country.

Women fleeing Venezuela are sexually assaulted on their way to Colombia

So far, international aid to the countries receiving Venezuelans has been scant. According to a study According to scholars at the Brookings Institution, foreign donors have provided about $ 1.4 billion to Venezuelan migrants over the past five years – less than 7% of the spending Syrians have spent since they fled their war-torn nation.

Although the numbers of Venezuelan and Syrian refugees are similar, “there remains a massive gap when it comes to funding from the international community to support host countries,” wrote Brookings researchers Dany Bahar and Meagan Dooley on Friday.

Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (left) and Colombia’s President Iván Duque speak in Bogotá on February 8th. Grandi has described Colombia’s open door policy as “one of the most important humanitarian gestures” in South America for more than three decades. Fernando Vergara / AP Hide caption

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Fernando Vergara / AP

Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (left) and Colombia’s President Iván Duque speak in Bogotá on February 8th. Grandi has described Colombia’s open door policy as “one of the most important humanitarian gestures” in South America for more than three decades.

Fernando Vergara / AP

In his speech, Duque urged other Latin American nations to follow what he called the “transcendental” example of Colombia.

Major Venezuelan migration triggers xenophobic backlash in Colombia

But an economic downturn sparked by the pandemic has turned many South Americans against migrants, who are often wrongly blamed for crime and unemployment. In January Peru – after Colombia the most popular South American destination for migrants – sent tanks to the border with Ecuador to stop the influx of undocumented Venezuelans there. And the Chilean military returned more than 100 migrants to Venezuela this month.

In one Gallup poll published last year69% of Colombians had an unfavorable view of Venezuelan migrants.

“If you are a low-income Colombian you may feel that the government has not taken care of your welfare and is now paying more attention to the plight of Venezuelans,” says Sergio Guzmán, director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a Bogotá consulting firm.

At the gooseberry farm where Bello and several other Venezuelans are employed, some of their Colombian employees are already grumbling about the new policy.

“I think Duque made a mistake,” says Julián Garzón, who uses scissors to cut ripe yellow gooseberries from their branches.

He complains that Venezuelans are taking jobs that should rightly go to Colombians. Instead of legalizing undocumented Venezuelans, the Colombian government should help them return to their own country and find work there.

Despite the short-term costs of emergency food, housing and health care, research shows that most countries ultimately benefit from migration as newcomers secure jobs, pay taxes and increase consumption. In 2019, for example, the International Monetary Fund published a study Prediction that Venezuelan migrants could increase economic growth in host countries by up to 0.3% between 2017 and 2030.

“I have no doubt that Venezuelan migrants will bring a lot of good for Colombia in the medium and long term,” says Luis Fernando Mejía, director of Fedesarrollo, an economic research institute in Bogotá.

The new policy also changes the image of Duque, Colombia’s youngest elected president. The 44-year-old Conservative politician has spent much of his two and a half years in office protesting against the government and the coronavirus pandemic, and critics have labeled him a weak leader. Guzmán says the fact that he is sticking to his refugee policy even though it is unpopular among his own people makes his commitment all the more admirable.

“Duque was always on the right side on that,” he says. “This makes his legacy in terms of international migration something he can stand on for the rest of his life.”

Jack

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