SANTA MARTA, Colombia — There are currently an estimated 5.4 million Venezuelans living outside their home country as either refugees or migrants. Colombia, Venezuela’s neighbor to the west, has welcomed more Venezuelans than any other country in the world. While other countries in the region have stepped up their requirements at the border, Colombia has remained a consistent beacon of hope for Venezuelans fleeing poverty, political instability and persecution. Colombia’s open-door policy is an inspiring humanitarian gesture.
An Imploding Venezuela
Today, Venezuela’s economic and political turmoil has generated one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Once one of the richest countries in Latin America, Venezuela has sunk to economic ruin. An estimated 96% of the population lives in poverty with 70% living in extreme poverty. According to the World Justice Project, the country ranks the lowest in the world in its rule of law index. With the current dictatorial regime maintaining vicious control over the country, there is no immediate end in sight. This means that Venezuelans have had to look outward for refuge.
Bonded by Conflicts
The majority of fleeing Venezuelans have turned to Colombia, and for the most part, have been met with open arms. Much of this camaraderie has been attributed to a shared history. When Colombia was mired in war during the 1980s and 1990s, more than seven million people were displaced over a 52-year conflict that became the largest cause of internal displacement in the history of modern war. At the time, roughly three million Colombians turned to Venezuela for relief and now the favor is being returned.
Colombia’s Open-Door Policy
According to Colombia’s Migration Czar, Felipe Muñoz, Colombia’s strategy has been one of rapid integration. The country currently hosts 37% of the Venezuelan migrants and refugees living in Latin America. The government has worked to distribute migrants across the country to avoid a situation like that of Peru where the vast majority have settled in just one city.
While there was a pause in official entries due to COVID-19, Colombia has implemented many policies to welcome its eastern neighbors. The government created Special Stay Permits (PEP) that allow Venezuelans to live and work in Colombia. The Border Mobility Card was also created to give to Venezuelans passing into Colombia so that they can legally make purchases within Colombia even if they do not have a passport. In total, Colombia has been able “to absorb the equivalent of almost 3.5% of its population,” according to Americas Quarterly. President Ivan Duque has made a welcoming border one of his top priorities during his presidency.
Global Response Versus Regional
Colombia has received roughly 45% of international funds given to Latin America to help offset the myriad of problems that go along with Venezuelan displacement. While the crisis of the Maduro regime has transitioned into a geopolitical headache for the international community, the humanitarian side remains underfunded. The majority of aid has come from the United States, but it pales in comparison to the aid provided to the Syrian and Myanmar migrant crisis plans. In 2020, Venezuelan refugees only received 1.5% of the international aid given to Syrian refugees, highlighting a massive disparity and a harsh truth that the broader international community has done relatively little.
Within the region, however, there is still hope for a more comprehensive humanitarian response. Perhaps one of the most uplifting developments is President Duque’s announcement that the Colombian government will provide a 10-year legal status to more than 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants if they present themselves to authorities. The announcement has already garnered significant praise from the U.N. Refugee Agency, much of the global community, and of course, Venezuelans themselves. This alone will not solve the Venezuelan refugee crisis. Rather, it will simplify the bureaucratic nightmare many Venezuelans have found themselves in as they routinely reapply for permission to remain in Colombia. Colombia’s open-door policy serves as an inspiring example to the international community.
– Scott Mistler-Ferguson