Impoverished Venezuelan refugees wait for next steps to legal status in Colombia

BOGOTA, Colombia – Estefania Gonzalez is among the undocumented Venezuelan refugees who are panhandling in the streets of Bogota during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gonzalez and Carlos Amayo said the crisis in Venezuela forced them to move to Colombia about two years ago. Immigration authorities estimate there are about 1.825 million Venezuelans living in the country and about 40% of them live in Bogota, Cucuta, Barranquilla, Medellin and Cali. Not all of them are documented.

Gonzalez said that without the proper documentation Venezuelan refugees can’t have access to public services. She said they haven’t been able to receive health care or education. On Monday, Colombian President Ivan Duque said his administration will be issuing 10-year residence permits.

“As we take this historic and transcendental step for Latin America, we hope other countries will follow our example,” Duque said during a news conference in front of diplomats.

Gonzalez and Amayo said the news was wonderful. They are eager to learn what they need to do to apply for temporary protection, which will also allow them to have access to receive services for their two daughters.

For Gonzalo and Amayo, the change in status also means they will be able to compete for legal jobs when these become available. The lockdowns to reduce infections and maintain hospital capacity have increased unemployment, furloughs, and pay cuts.

Tomas Guanipa, the ambassador to Venezuela’s Juan Guaido’s administration, said in Spanish that he welcomed Duque’s announcement with deep gratitude and a lot of joy.

According to the United Nations, there are 5.4 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide. Impoverished Venezuelans who can’t afford to travel to North America or Europe continue to move illegally to Peru, Aruba, Brazil, Panama, Curacao, Ecuador, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Duque told the diplomats the only way to stop the ongoing Venezuelan exodus is to “end the dictatorship” and “set up a transitional government” and free elections.

Torres contributed to this report from Miami.


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