Although on paper the land borders remain closed until midnight on October 31, by decree of the Government, this has not been an impediment for hundreds of Venezuelans to pass to Colombia daily.
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What future awaits them in the country? Is Colombian society in a position to provide shelter and job opportunities for all this mass of migrants?
Experts consulted by EL TIEMPO consider that this is one of the challenges that the National Government must address more urgently, and must do so in an articulated and multidimensional way, not only because of the health problem that this may pose in the current context, but also due to the damage caused by the pandemic in the national economy and the extra pressure that the arrival of these migrants supposes.
According to the Dane report, unemployment in Colombia during August 2020 was 16.8 percent.
But also this week the figures on poverty in the country, corresponding to 2019, were released. Last year, the number of people in that condition increased by 661,899, according to Dane, to reach 17.4 million. And it is estimated that there are at least 1.7 million Venezuelans in the country.
They say that Colombia should join state efforts with the action of social organizations, with humanitarian assistance platforms and with international cooperation, so that the exodus from Venezuela is assumed more proactively. Something that is already underway within the Government, according to official sources confirmed to EL TIEMPO.
Since the reactivation of the Colombian economy, every day dozens of people cross the porous border with Venezuela, 2,219 kilometers long, and from there they disperse throughout the country, most of them on foot. They return in search of sources of income for themselves and their families, but according to Migración Colombia, now there is an aggravating factor: each person who left when the pandemic began is back with one or two other people.
The first reaction of the Government to this situation was to announce that it was going to further shield the border. Official reports speak that around 900 men of the Public Force monitor the illegal steps that connect Norte de Santander with Venezuela.
Lucas Gómez, Border Manager, pointed out that the Government “is not going to allow” any more this situation where illegality is the order of the day. But experts agree that controlling irregular border crossings with Venezuela is difficult, taking into account the humanitarian crisis in the neighboring country and the hundreds of trails and clandestine routes that exist.
It is impossible, in such an articulated neighborhood of deserts, conurban areas, mountains and shared rivers, that the arrival of Venezuelans can be prevented
In addition, the issue has become a business for new armed groups, which charge for the passage and commit all kinds of abuses with migrants.
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“It is impossible, in such an articulated neighborhood of deserts, conurban areas, mountains and shared rivers, that the arrival of Venezuelans can be prevented,” says Socorro Ramírez, a member of Puentes Ciudadanos Colombia-Venezuela.
While María Clara Robayo, a researcher at the Venezuela Observatory of the Universidad del Rosario, notes that “Colombia has never been able to control the border, especially in terms of human mobility.”
Analysts point out that another factor that hinders migration control is that there is no binational dialogue and this does not allow for concerted actions between the two countries.
What to do then before this high migratory flow? To start, experts point out that opening the bridges and the formal steps are a crucial factor and must be taken soon, as the closure strengthens the illegal armed groups.
“The best strategy is to open the formal border crossings and bridges in order to organize the flow. Otherwise, instead of a calm and orderly flow, the vulnerability of these populations increases and worsens, ”said Ramírez.
Robayo agrees with this position: “Reopening the border in a pandemic context generates a great public health risk. However, as we have seen, a closed border is not going to be effective for long, since the flow of migrants is moving along the trails ”.
The Government has emphasized that it is coordinating and working on the protocols to reopen the border. In fact, the seven regular border posts will be equipped with a state-of-the-art biometric identification system based on the reading of the iris, ten fingerprints and the morphology of the foreigner’s face.
However, both experts and authorities recognize that the greatest challenge is in the management of social and health. For the analysts consulted, specialized plans and protocols are required to prepare recipient municipalities for a greater demand in terms of public health, work, shelter and food. As well as for the management of the biosafety issue.
“For us, this is one of the great difficulties and greatest challenges,” acknowledges Gómez.
Mass repatriations seem out of the question, because they are expensive, difficult and because nothing guarantees that these people will not try to enter the country again. In Gómez’s words: “Migration must be seen as a people’s right and it cannot be criminalized,” and for this reason what they are doing is reinforcing the institutional framework of the State, he emphasizes.
The same official revealed to EL TIEMPO that the government’s idea is to work towards a socioeconomic integration of Venezuelans in the country and to increase international aid for their care.
He recognized that this crisis cannot be faced by the Government alone, but requires external support.
“One of the tasks that President Duque gave me is that we must increase this collaboration on the part of friendly countries, be very active at the international level to receive more resources,” he said.
He stressed that “a greater effort must be made” because if the dollars per migrant that have been delivered to Syria are compared with those that have been delivered by Venezuelan migrants, “We are between four and five times below.”
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