Source: Schneyder Mendoza, Agence France-Presse / Getty Images
The emblem of Colombia, the Estatuto de Protección Temporal (Temporary Protected Status, or TPS) for Venezuelan migrants and refugees – announced by Iván Duque’s government earlier this year – has relieved many Venezuelans in Colombia who need legal status to find employment, getting access to the public health system and registering for a bank account, among other benefits. While Colombia could do more to ensure the full social and economic integration of this migrant population, the government is crippled by its own fiscal constraints, high unemployment and political polarization. The international community must heed this urgent call to action before it is too late.
Colombia continues to face the social and economic repercussions of the Venezuelan crisis, mainly due to the hundreds of Venezuelan migrants and refugees who cross the porous border between Colombia and Venezuela every day. These Venezuelans arrive in Colombian border communities that lack basic infrastructure and suffer under the influence of non-state armed groups, a result of the historic absence of the state in these parts of the country. The majority of Venezuelans who manage to find work end up in the informal sector, working in coca fields or illegal mines near the border, as laborers in agriculture and construction throughout rural Colombia, and in cities. as contract workers, street vendors and artists (among others). They join the more than 50 percent of Colombians who already depend on informal work.
As such, Venezuelans are vulnerable to labor abuse and exploitation in all sectors of the economy and in all regions of the country, with the additional damaging dimension of extreme gender disparities in the labor market. . These abuses and exploitation are only compounded by the prevalence of xenophobia, sexual assault, gender-based violence and human trafficking which have largely normalized due to the weakness of the Colombian justice system, which is particularly untrustworthy for economically vulnerable migrants in need of social protections. .
Earlier this year, Colombia announced an unprecedented “open door” policy, granting temporary legal status to more than one million Venezuelans in the hope of improving the living conditions and general well-being of the country. those who fled Venezuela in search of a better quality of life. It is fair to say that no developed country has offered such generous benefits and standards to migrants; Colombia has therefore set a high standard for other countries, especially its South American neighbors, to improve their own treatment of Venezuelan migrants.
To ensure that beneficiaries of temporary protection status can actually access the promised benefits – related to employment, health care and education – greater collaboration between national government, local authorities, the private sector and civil society is needed. For now, it seems that private and public entities will be able to arbitrarily reject the Permiso por Protección Temporal (PPT) as an official form of legal identification. Whenever this rejection occurs, migrants will find themselves facing the same obstacles that they would be forced to face without the document. Without guaranteed coordination between private and public entities, including employers, the existing protected legal status will be unable to facilitate the overall social and economic integration of migrants. In this regard, education is needed so that potential employers and state entities understand the legitimacy of the document and begin to accept it more broadly.
In addition, Colombia has a significant problem with high rates of labor force participation in the informal economy. This is a problem that has worsened considerably with the COVID-19 pandemic, as rising unemployment has pushed more Colombian workers into the informal sector. This further reduces the likelihood that even Venezuelan migrants with legal status can find employment in the formal sector. In addition, the Colombian government should strive to reduce financial and institutional barriers within the Ministry of Education in order to enable educated Venezuelans to validate their diplomas and certificates in Colombia, making it easier for Venezuelan professionals to pursue their career. This process is likely to increase the risk of fraud and encourage falsification of credentials; nevertheless, the Colombian economy can benefit from the vast talent pool of Venezuelan professionals who have emigrated to Colombia and are currently dependent on informal labor when they could be more productive in other sectors of the economy. The Colombian government should also reduce other bureaucratic hurdles so that private companies can effectively hire Venezuelans in possession of the PPT document. Civil society organizations, on the other hand, should work with the government to widely disseminate information on workers’ rights, in order to minimize the exploitation and abuse of Venezuelan migrants in the workplace.
So far, international aid has been insufficient to deal with the largest refugee crisis in the Western Hemisphere. The Colombian Foreign Ministry estimates that by the end of 2021 the number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees worldwide will be 6.2 million (more than the reported number of refugees who have fled Syria since the start of the civil war in this country in 2011). The Brookings Institution argued that the Venezuelan exodus represents the most underfunded refugee crisis in modern history: while per capita aid for each Syrian refugee was calculated at $ 3,150 and for each refugee south Sudanese at 1390 USD, each Venezuelan refugee has so far received only 265 USD. Last June, Canada, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), hosted the International Donors’ Conference in solidarity with Venezuelan refugees and migrants. Donors have pledged $ 1.5 billion in funding to support humanitarian aid in Venezuela and initiatives to integrate refugees and migrants in host countries. While such promises are certainly welcome, it is unlikely that such funds will arrive soon enough to meet the urgent needs of the millions of Venezuelan migrants already in Colombia and those of their hosts, whose enormous unmet needs have been exacerbated. by the pressures of Venezuelans migration.
Longer-term challenges will include integrating poor and low-skilled Venezuelans into the formal economy. For such integration to be feasible as soon as possible, the Colombian government and international donors must commit to funding and carrying out development projects, especially along the border between Colombia and Venezuela and in rural areas, which tackle existing high levels of poverty and inequality. It is no coincidence that these regions are also where a significant number of Venezuelans have settled, either due to the abundance of informal employment opportunities, the high opportunity costs of traveling elsewhere in the country and / or lower cost of living than in urban areas. Unfortunately, Colombian border departments and rural areas across the country continue to lack basic infrastructure, including access to clean water, sanitation, electricity, and safe and affordable housing. Through the provisions of the Development Plans with a Territorial Approach (PDET) of the 2016 Peace Agreement, the Colombian government has started to implement the necessary infrastructure projects that have the potential to improve the quality of life of the people. communities in the most affected areas of the country for decades. of armed conflict. There are 23 municipalities in the border departments of La Guajira, Cesar, Norte de Santander and Arauca that have already benefited from this funding linked to the peace process, for the benefit not only of Colombians, but also of the 475,000 Venezuelans who reside. in these departments. Such successes can help eliminate perceptions that aid to Venezuelans creates inequalities in host communities.
Challenges aside, granting temporary legal status to a majority of Venezuelans currently in Colombia should be recognized as the historic step that it is; Furthermore, it serves as an implicit counterpoint to other countries in the region, such as Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and Chile, which actively pursue anti-migrant policies designed to exclude and expel Venezuelan migrants from the within their borders. Colombia’s intervention also sets an example in Mexico, the United States and many countries in Europe, where immigration and immigrants are hot political issues. As has already been said, xenophobia towards Venezuelans in Colombia is a ticking time bomb, and with elections on the horizon, the issue is subject to politicization and to be taken up by opportunistic populists seeking a solution. easy scapegoat.
The new Colombian president and government elected in 2022 will have the opportunity to focus on structural reforms and strengthening state institutions that can minimize violence near the border; reduce poverty levels; and, in collaboration with the private sector, to increase employment opportunities for Venezuelan migrants in agriculture, health and various service sectors. However, the next Colombian government must continue to face the growing risks to Venezuelans and Colombians in border areas which are likely to erode governance and security, including xenophobia and basic unmet health needs. , education and nutrition. Even ahead of next year’s presidential election, however, there is still enough time to build political consensus around TPS for Venezuelans that continues to implement key provisions of the peace deal, creates jobs. and strengthens state institutions in and around border areas. In order to facilitate the development of such a consensus, however, international donors, notably Canada, the United States and the European Union, must accelerate the disbursement of pledged funds and even contribute more, as the current fiscal constraints of the Colombia will not allow it to invest more generously in this population.
This article is part of a larger report to be published by Colombia Risk Analysis. Follow them on Twitter @ColombiaRisk to receive the report as soon as it is published.
Sergio Guzmán is the director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a political risk consultancy based in Bogotá. Follow him on Twitter @SergioGuzmanE and @ColombiaRisk.
Ivonne Marmolejo is a research intern at Colombia Risk Analysis and currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Follow her on Twitter @imandue.
All opinions and content are the opinions of the authors alone and do not represent the views of Global Americans.