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What is Colombia looking for by regulating about 1 million Venezuelans?

This week, President Iván Duque announced the creation of a statute that seeks to normalize the migratory situation of Venezuelans in the country .

Group of Venezuelan migrants

This measure will allow about 966,000 Venezuelans who are illegally in Colombia to access rights enjoyed by the resident population. / Photo: Reuters - Reference image

LatinAmerican Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández

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Leer en español: ¿Qué busca Colombia regulando cerca de 1 millón de venezolanos?

This week, Colombian President Iván Duque and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, announced a Temporary Protection Statute to define and regulate the migratory situation in which millions of Venezuelans living in the Andean country live.

In practice, this measure will allow nearly 966,000 Venezuelans who are illegally in Colombia (about 56% of the total) to access work permits and any other rights enjoyed by the resident population.

This process will take place in two phases. In the first, there will be a virtual registration in which migrants must register in the Single Registry of Venezuelan Migrants implemented by Migración Colombia. Then the Personal Protection Permit will be issued, an identity document that will be granted. People who do not take advantage of this program may be deported.

Prior to this announcement by President Duque, in December the Colombian president had excluded Venezuelans who are illegally from accessing the vaccines purchased by the Colombian Government, citing a possible increase in the migration of people seeking the vaccine that, according to estimates by the Duque Government, Venezuela will not provide. This measure was strongly criticized, first for its xenophobic overtones, but also for not being effective in terms of public health.

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So, why is this turn in a speech by Duque and his administration due?

At first, several opposition politicians criticized the measure, believing that it sought to regulate Venezuelans fleeing the Maduro regime. In this way, nationalize them and make them a voting population for the next elections in 2022. Something similar to what Hugo Chávez did at the time with Colombians to support Chavismo.

Given that a large part of the refugees in Colombia (not all) reject the socialist government of their country, they could choose right-wing parties, such as the ruling Democratic Center. However, several experts and the government itself came out to deny this hypothesis, because the regularization of Venezuelans does not guarantee their nationalization.

So if not to win votes, why now? Well, there are several reasons, both internal and external.

Internally, it is obvious that this measure generates several reactions. Most political groups have supported this initiative and recognize its humanitarian character. Although it is unlikely that this will generate a great change in perception towards the Government, public opinion has largely supported this initiative and this may also generate political support for the next elections. Likewise, we must continue fighting against xenophobic discourses that will grow in the face of the post-pandemic economic crisis.

Experts have highlighted this measure, since including a large Venezuelan population in the formal labor market can reduce the high rates of informality that Colombia has. This also protects foreign workers from labor exploitation and allows competition with locals. This too, like any migratory phenomenon, can benefit the national economy. The Colombian population is registering a decrease and, according to ECLAC data, in 2050 Colombia will reach 55.9 million, and then it would begin to decline, this, accompanied by gradual aging of the population.

Additionally, Duque has been facing harsh criticism of his government. Lately, the upsurge in violence in various areas of the country, the unsuccessful implementation of the peace accords (which Duque and his party reject), the inability to start the vaccination program, and a possible tax hike, have not stopped resting. to the president. This move also allowed him to give her some internal and external rejoicing.

Despite the internal reasons, several experts agree that the measure has, above all, reasons and motivations in international matters. Duque has been one of the presidents who has criticized the Government of Venezuela the most, his announcement in December not to vaccinate irregular migrants, cost him several criticisms from the international community and also damaged his image of the humanitarian struggle for Venezuelan democracy.

Precisely, with this measure, Duque now presents himself before the region and the world, as the leader of the inclusion of the great Venezuelan diaspora. The Colombian president encouraged his colleagues in South America to continue with similar measures in the acceptance and regularization of Venezuelans.

Additionally, having the support of the UN will be able to give international priority in the search for the longed-for vaccines that the Duque Government has failed to obtain, which is why Colombia has not yet started its vaccination program. During the announcement, Duque reaffirmed his call for "the international community to contribute resources and tools to serve the migrant population."

Another factor that should not be ignored is the new administration in the White House. The United States is, historically, Colombia's greatest ally and trading partner. After several politicians from the ruling party have openly supported Donald Trump, Duque seeks to establish communication ties with Biden. This will give the new president some credit and ward off possible criticism that Colombia may receive for the failed implementation of the peace accords, one of the bilateral points that Biden wants to retake.

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