A Commitment to Integration

A Commitment to Integration

– Iván Duque Márquez, President of the Republic of Colombia

Colombia’s President embraces the challenges – and opportunities – of human displacement.

The migration phenomenon is a transcendental topic for the world, and one that is of immediate concern for Colombia. However, human migration is not a fleeting matter; it has long been an essential part of our Nation. We have prioritized addressing the challenges and leveraging the opportunities of migration since the first day of our administration when we declared an open-door policy, especially toward our Venezuelan brothers and sisters.

Colombia has experienced a massive influx of migrants, particularly in the last decade, which led us to implement short term measures, but also to create the Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelan Migrants (TPSVM), a unique regional response mechanism for longer-term needs in the face of one of the greatest migratory crises in our region.

March 10, 2021, Colombia. UNHCR meets with refugee women to recognize and prevent gender based violence. Catalina Betancur Sanchez/UNHCR.

More than five million Venezuelans have fled their country due to political discontent and poverty. Colombia has welcomed more than 1.7 million, and I am deeply committed to helping them through this upheaval in their lives.

I was inspired by the call of Pope Francis, who in the encyclical Fratelli Tutti, called on world leaders to embrace our fraternal responsibility to migrants and refugees and to attend to this neglected population with a sense of humanity and genuine care.

I was inspired by the call of Pope Francis, who... called on world leaders to embrace our fraternal responsibility to migrants and refugees... with a sense of humanity and genuine care.

When I became President, Migration Colombia's calculations estimated that 218,000 Venezuelan citizens were in Colombia without authorization and another 533,000 were in the process of being authorized. We did not know the names, locations, or social and health conditions of these migrants, but clearly understood that they needed our help.

Faced with this situation, we enacted a coordinated response to ensure that Venezuelan migrants, who had been oppressed by a brutal regime, would get the assistance they so desperately needed, while concurrently finding opportunities for development and progress for our country.

The first efforts to regularize the situation of Venezuelans were carried out through the Special Stay Permit (PEP, its Spanish acronym) and the Administrative Registry of Venezuelan Migrants (RAMV, its Spanish acronym). That allowed us to understand and address the migrants’ immediate living conditions.

At the end of 2018, we created the National Council for Economic and Social Policy, which guaranteed health, education, and social inclusion services for migrants. And, in 2019, we adopted a strategy to help migrants earn legal income, helping us identify and counteract the obstacles that stymie full socioeconomic integration. Additionally, we decided to grant Colombian nationality to the children of Venezuelan migrants who were born in the country, rather than risk their statelessness. The measure covers children born since August 2015, and today benefits more than 51,000 minors.

In 2020 came the Covid-19 pandemic, an invisible enemy that struck humanity, generating a crisis in healthcare systems worldwide alongside great economic and social challenges. We set out to strengthen the healthcare system, protect the most vulnerable, and preserve economic activity and employment. And while we knew that declaring mandatory isolation and closing the borders would have difficult consequences, our priority was to safeguard lives.

Despite the border closure, at the end of 2020 more than 18,000 Venezuelan migrants were picked up on national roads and it was estimated that more than 300 migrants were trying to enter the country illegally every day. Faced with this situation, we set out to create a policy that would reflect the fraternal, supportive, and respectful spirit that we see in our Venezuelan brothers and sisters.

Temporary Protection Status for Venezuelans: Social and Economic Integration

The Temporary Protection Status for Venezuelans (ETPMV in Spanish) became a reality with Decree 216 on March 1, 2021, which established a process for Venezuelans to apply for a 10-year temporary authorization. With it, we honored our international commitment to managing migration in a safe and orderly manner, in line with the goals of the 2018 Global Compact for Migration. This progressive and unprecedented measure created a unified, integral, and open authorization mechanism, adjusted to the specific needs of the Venezuelan migrant population who wish to remain in the country. It is focused on increasing legal immigration rates and effectively integrating them into the socioeconomic fabric of our country. 

Since May 5, 2021, migrants began registering via the Single Registry of Venezuelan Migrants (RUMV, its acronym in Spanish) system, and as of October 20, we had 1.4 million people registered in the portal. Of those, 1.63 million had scheduled their appointment for phase 2 of biometric registration.

Thirty-seven-year-old Venezuelan, Laura Espinoza*, works at Sunshine Bouquets in Bogota, a flower company committed to including refugees in its workforce. Daniel Dreifuss/UNHCR.*Name changed for protection reasons 

However, there remain challenges in implementing the ETPMV, chief among them is ensuring more seamless coordination between national government entities and local governmental authorities, so that the temporary protection permit becomes a path for true integration and the guarantee of rights, which remains unfulfilled despite innumerable efforts.

In August 2021 we had 383,488 Venezuelan migrants enrolled in our Social Security Healthcare System and expect that number to reach 950,000 in one year. In addition, we anticipate that 1.05 million migrants will be able to access vital social programs. Nearly half a million migrant children and adolescents currently have access to school and our hope is to provide free education to 100% of Venezuelan students enrolled in the official education system.

Colombia's organizational and fiscal commitment to establish and implement policies to protect and integrate migrants has been immense. Implementation of the TSPVM requires constant collective action to develop the principle and practice of global solidarity under the mantle of multilateralism.

Colombia has been a strong voice in the region. Our country proved to the world that a middle-income economy can face migratory challenges with policies that deliver urgent humanitarian assistance while simultaneously establishing normalization and regulation processes for long-term stabilization. However, we cannot do it alone.

Our country proved to the world that a middle-income economy can face migratory challenges with policies that deliver urgent humanitarian assistance while simultaneously establishing normalization and regulation processes for long-term stabilization.

We have prioritized efforts to secure funding for the needs of refugees and migrants in the region, including through our participation in the International Donors Conference on June 17, led by the Government of Canada and the co-leading agencies of the Regional Platform for lnter-agency Cooperation (UNHCR and IOM), where commitments totaling $2.6 billion were made.

Our work to welcome and integrate Venezuelan migrants has brought recognition from organizations including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations, the International Organization of Migration, and the World Bank; from countries including the United States, Canada, Japan, and Spain, and the Vatican. 

Likewise, Colombia has joined the group of allied countries receiving Afghans who assisted the United States’ efforts there for years and who are in the process of registering and migrating to that country. We are united by humanitarian attention, the protection of human and women's rights, and of course, being with our allies when they need us.

A Transformation for Colombia

With our actions we demonstrated to the world that Colombia is an example of a country open to migration in discourse and in practice. We made bold decisions and have acted responsibly to comply with them. Not only did we define a flexible and modern mechanism for streamlining Venezuelan migrants’ entry to Colombia, but we also committed to adapting our government structure to provide better services.

We call on others to follow our lead, and, as we have done in Colombia, manage global migration with intelligence, fraternity, solidarity, equity, and with the support of the international community.

Iván Duque Márquez is the President of the Republic of Colombia.

Cover art: Venezuelans fleeing the political and economic crisis back home cross the border into Colombia via the Simon Bolivar International Bridge. July 2019. Hélène Caux/UNHCR.