The fact that Colombia is welcoming Venezuelans is, perhaps, surprising. However, the political chaos created by the dictatorship of President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela has created an intolerable environment for its citizens. An estimated 5.4 million Venezuelans have left. They have gone to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States, among other countries.
Many of these countries initially accepted the refugees but, when the numbers grew, that welcome stopped. Peru even sent tanks to its border with Ecuador to stop the migrants moving south.
The Venezuelan exodus is one of the largest mass migrations in the world, but is largely unheralded by the Western press. For example, the flight of Syrians from their war-torn country is estimated at 5.6 million. The refugee situation in Sudan is approximately 1.1 million. Both of these tragedies have been well-documented by Western media and we know a lot about them. We know virtually nothing about the Venezuelan migration. Colombia, alone, has received 1.7 million Venezuelans mainly because the two countries share a long border.
The influx has caused major economic disruption in a country that can ill-afford additional economic pressures. Colombia is still clawing its way forward, after fifty years of war against the terrorist group, the FARC.
It is therefore surprising, and courageous, that Colombia’s President, Iván Duque, just announced that nearly one million Venezuelan migrants, without papers, will be granted protected status for up to ten years. The ruling applies to undocumented Venezuelan migrants living in Colombia before January 31, 2021. It also applies to the hundreds of thousands of migrants already legalized, who will now not have to annually re-apply for temporary permits or visas.
Mr. Duque said, “As we take this historic and transcendental step for Latin America we hope other countries will follow our example.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, called the move “the most important humanitarian gesture” in the region in decades. It will allow the migrants, who arrive penniless, to integrate, and to access jobs, legal services and food.
President Duque is taking a hell of a risk in doing this. Many of his own people are still suffering from displacement, and economic deprivation, as a result of the 50-year terrorist war. To tell them they must now compete, on an equal basis, with a million Venezuelans, is certainly courageous, and perhaps foolhardy.
A cynic might suggest that he wants to follow his predecessor in seeking a Nobel Peace Prize by giving away the farm. However, there is no truth in that cynicism, as far as I know.
Colombia is welcoming Venezuelans is certainly a noble gesture. It remains to be seen if that decision will come back to bite him domestically and politically.
Hopefully not, he deserves nothing but accolades. However, politics is never fair.