NYT Op-Ed: How Colombia Can Show Compassion for Venezuelans and Keep the Peace Process on Track

On Wednesday the New York Times published an op-ed (también en el NYT en Español) focusing on the needs of Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Colombia, written by myself and my WOLA colleague Gimena Sánchez. We detail a number of shortcomings in Colombia’s response to Venezuelans (the risk of statelessness, the lack of shelters, and rise of xenophobia, all of which is detailed in our recent report), but here’s the main point:

Under the new administration of President Ivan Duque, Colombia has an opportunity to turn the tide by showing compassion to Venezuelans escaping hardship. With more help from the United States and the rest of the international community, the Colombian government could lead a regional protection and assistance effort for fleeing Venezuelans. After years of dealing with the human rights and displacement problems stemming from its own internal conflict, Colombia has a wealth of experiences on which to draw from in this effort.

We say this not because we want to denigrate the important advancements that Colombia has made so far. The fact that the government is offering temporary residency status (and with it, access to essential services) to some 400,000 who participated in a registration process earlier this year is a major achievement. But we think it’s important that Colombia expand a better quality of protections to all Venezuelans in its territory. Colombia is well positioned to take leadership on this because it has acted as a regional weather vane. After Colombian authorities tightened border restrictions in February, Ecuador and Peru have followed suit by closing their borders to Venezuelans who lack valid passports. It is somewhat ironic that Colombian authorities have criticized Ecuador and Peru for doing this, when they themselves require passports (or previously valid border mobility cards, which the government stopped issuing in February) at border checkpoints.

In doing more to show compassion to fleeing Venezuelans, it’s clear that the Colombian government will need more resources from the international community. The United States, European Union, and others will need to step up and ensure that authorities and civil society groups working on the ground have the resources they need to respond to Venezuelans’ profound level of humanitarian need, particularly in border areas. Colombia has also committed to improving much-needed services to marginalized communities as part of its historic peace process. That’s why we’re concerned by the fact that President Duque has talked about reallocating peace implementation funds to address the needs of migrants and refugees. As we argue, the Colombian government will need to adopt an approach that complements the peace process instead of derailing it.