Colombia will temporarily settle nearly one million undocumented Venezuelans, President Iván Duque announced on Monday (8). The decision was classified as emblematic by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.
Duque decided to relax his immigration policy with regard to Venezuelans during a meeting in Bogotá with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) envoy.
Foreigners benefiting from the measure represent 56% of the 1.7 million who arrived in Colombia, fleeing the serious crisis in Venezuela.
“We have made public the decision of our country to create a temporary protection status in Colombia which allows us to carry out a process of regularization of the migrants who are in our country”, declared Duque, alongside Grandi.
The president explained that Venezuelans will benefit from temporary protection status for ten years, during which they can obtain a resident visa if they decide to stay in the country.
The process will begin with the official register of migrants, which will include their “places of residence, socio-economic conditions and, of course, will also be included in a biometric register,” Duque said.
According to the president, the decision will bring “national security benefits” because it will be possible to identify foreigners who have committed crimes to punish them, but also on a humanitarian level, since Venezuelans will be “on equal rights” in Colombia.
“I really think we are in the presence of a historic gesture […], emblematic of the region, including the world, ”said Grandi.
The announcement came after harsh criticism from Duke in December for his intention to exclude undocumented migrants from the massive coronavirus vaccination process which the government says begins on February 20.
Duque reconsidered his position and called for international help, after condemning what he called a lean response from organizations and other countries to the continent’s biggest migration crisis.
Grandi assured that the new protection status will allow “greater vaccination coverage” in Colombia, the main site of the Venezuelan exodus.
With 50 million inhabitants, Colombia is one of the most affected in the region by the Covid-19 pandemic. With more than two million confirmed cases, it is the second with the highest number of infections, behind only Brazil, and the third in number of deaths – 55,900.
The UNHCR chief recalled that the Venezuelan population is particularly vulnerable, because “it works mainly in the informal sector and faces situations of abuse, exploitation and discrimination”.
The head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, celebrated this decision and assured on Twitter that his country is working to “develop humanitarian programs in the world”.
Without diplomatic relations, Colombia and Venezuela share a porous 2,200 km border. The UN estimates that 34% of the 5 million Venezuelans who have left their territory are in the neighboring country.