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Colombian President Evan Duque won the praise of the Biden administration, the United Nations and Pope Francis for his decision last month to grant temporary legal status to illegal immigrants from neighboring Venezuela. But according to Duque, what the international community is lacking is money to pay for a crisis comparable in scope to the influx of Syrian refugees in the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Of the 5.4 million Venezuelans who fled an authoritarian regime and a collapsing economy in their homeland, about 2 million have settled in Colombia. Nearly half of these newcomers to Colombia are undocumented, and Duque’s new policy will allow them to live and work legally in Colombia for up to 10 years. Duque said it will also provide migrants with better access to education, health care and legal employment.
Colombia’s open-door approach contrasts with hard-line policies in neighboring Peru, Ecuador and Chile, where governments – amid rising xenophobia – have placed visa requirements and other barriers for Venezuelan immigrants.
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But it is an expensive strategy. Duque said his government spends more than $ 1 billion annually on Venezuelan migrants with little money from the international community. Compared with the Spending on refugee crises In Syria and South Sudan, Duque said relatively little money has come from foreign donors to resettle Venezuelan migrants.
Duque spoke more about the challenges of the Venezuelan refugee crisis in an interview with Ari Shapiro on NPR All things considered. His answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
On why Colombia has adopted an open immigration policy
We want to set an example and [be] A reference that can be adopted by other countries. We want to prove that although we are not a rich country, we can do something humane, that is, fraternal, but at the same time it is a smart and sound immigration policy.
We have built brothers with Venezuela. [During Colombia’s drug-fueled guerrilla war] There were hundreds and thousands of Colombians who went to Venezuela and found an opportunity. I think once there is a recovery in Venezuela and once people return to Venezuela, they will always remember those who supported them in Colombia. This will strengthen our relationships like never before.
About the benefits of a temporary preventive situation
Allowing immigrants to formalize helps us build a more equitable society. Once the situation is settled, people can open bank accounts, buy homes and work legally. Such as Venezuelan immigrants contribute to the coffee sector [coffee-pickers]. We have 200,000 Venezuelans in Colombia who contribute to Social Security.
[Migrants] Do not stay for a year, two years, three, or five. They likely stayed for over a decade. So you’d better do things smartly. I think this approach, if adopted by other countries, will work.
On international aid to the Venezuelan refugee crisis
We pay out more than $ 1 billion a year to sponsor immigrants in Colombia. [So] We want to raise this issue in front of the world and mobilize more donor capabilities. Venezuela is the world’s greatest migration crisis.
What was pledged and spent in the case of Syria is more than $ 3,000 per migrant. When we look at the migration crisis in South Sudan, we are talking about more than $ 1,600 [per migrant]. And when we think of [Venezuelan] Crisis, it was barely $ 316.
We know we are in the midst of COVID-19. We all know that everyone has financial limitations. But we must at least fulfill the commitments made at the donors ’conference around the world.