By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia, usually an exporter of immigrants, is experiencing the other side of a migrant crisis. Venezuelan refugees flee their homes and bring Colombia the first wave of massive immigration in its history as an independent nation.
Venezuelan immigrants have been forced to leave the country amid the collapse of President Maduro’s government. Their once prosperous economy is collapsing and has driven masses of people from their homes. Colombia shares 1,300 miles of border with Venezuela and has been a popular destination for its dispersed neighbors.
Besides the proximity, Venezuelans make the move to Colombia because of the economic opportunity. Several refugees remark that at least in Colombia they can find food with the little money they earn. At home, the Maduro regime has destroyed the free market and shelves remain empty.
On the Pope’s visit to Colombia a few weeks ago, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos pledged that Colombia will accommodate thousands of Venezuelan exiles while it works to find a political solution for their country’s crisis. The President assured the Pope, “Colombia will always be a welcoming land.”
Now that Venezuelans have arrived in the promised amount, Colombia is starting to see the effects. Local authorities report street brawls over food donations. The amount of charity is scarce compared to the amount of need. The mayor of a popular city for immigrants, Cücuta, actually had to ban food donations in public spaces to avoid this violence.
This massive migration is putting a strain on Colombia’s job market as well. Immigrant professionals and students move on to Peru or Chile where there are better job opportunities. This leaves the rest of the refugees as day laborers in Colombia where they make a fraction of what Colombian workers make.
Approximately 3,500 Venezuelans enter Colombia daily. If this level of immigration persist, Colombia will experience an unprecedented population increase of 3% next year. However, this number is surely even larger because Venezuelans who cross the border illegally are not accounted for. Because of this, the Colombian government has drastically understated the effect this immigration crisis will have on their country.
Colombia is not the only destination for Venezuelans. “Since Venezuela’s economic crisis began in 2014, an unprecedented number of Venezuelans have fled the country.” Most have fled to Colombia, but Brazil has also received tens of thousands. The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum in Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico has also increased significantly. Refugees arrive in hopes of gaining refugee status, temporary work, and medical services.
These immigrants have suffered food shortages and a severe lack of medical supplies under their socialist ruler. In many cases, their neighboring countries are their only hope for survival.
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