From the emergency to integration, the new challenge of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia

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Their illegal status is the greatest obstacle for Venezuelans to resume their lives in Colombia.

Nearly five million Venezuelans have left their country in recent times to escape the political and humanitarian crisis. Colombia has been the main recipient, with 1.6 million Venezuelan migrants, many of whom have been there for several years, so their needs begin to focus more on integration than on an emergency response.

“We have had several waves of Venezuelan migration,” says Carolina Melo, head of the Hunger Action (ACH) project in Colombia, in Colombia for the attention of Venezuelan migrants, in an interview with Europa Press.

The first Venezuelans began dating in 2012 and 2013, in the twilight of the Hugo Chávez government, when a political change and an economic collapse were envisioned. Then “people who had more economic possibilities emigrated, so there has been no greater difficulty,” he says.

“The difficulty is the recent migrations of people who, in general, in Venezuela were already in a condition of vulnerability” due to lack of access to food or medicines and who have arrived in Colombia with needs of all kinds, Melo says.

“They arrive in a situation of profound affectation to their health”, especially “walkers”, who travel on foot from Venezuela or already within Colombia to move from border cities like Cúcuta to urban centers such as Bogotá.

In their case, “they have physical conditions of all kinds.” An object of special concern are pregnant women, who already become pregnant from Venezuela or stay on the road, because once on Colombian soil “they continue gestation without any prenatal control, so there is a very high risk of maternal mortality” .

ACH also directs its efforts to children under 5 at risk of malnutrition. Until now, less than 4 percent of the 700 that has attended between January 2018 and January 2020 were malnourished, which has allowed them to put the emphasis on prevention, not only of “physical consequences”, but of ” “social barriers, such as delayed learning that prevents them from” making the right decisions “as teenagers and adults.

In the few cases of malnourished children, Action Against Hunger provides “nutritional assessment and treatment for nutritional recovery” but when malnutrition results in more complex diseases “they are referred to the public health system.

The other leg is mental health. The NGO provides “psychological first aid” to heal the emotional impact of the trip and the new context. Melo mentions, for example, cases of sexual violence against migrant women, either on the trip, or in Colombia, as well as gender violence “associated with unions with Colombian nationals.”

LEGAL LIMBO
The ACH cooperator also refers to another type of violence, “we could call it institutional,” which occurs when Venezuelan migrants cannot access basic services because of their illegal status in Colombia.

Melo says that increasingly the main “challenge” of Venezuelan migrants is to overcome their “condition of irregularity.” “Almost half of the people who arrive in the country” do so illegally because “they enter through unofficial places” – the so-called ‘trails’ – because they have lost travel documents along the way – “they are they have stolen “- or because they directly left Venezuela without them.

“This very high number of people is difficult to integrate into social programs,” which in turn hinders their return to life. Although they have access to urgent medical care and minors can go to class, the labor market is usually closed for them, so that “the main source of income is informal work,” from street sales to begging .

Therefore, part of the psychosocial care offered by ACH focuses on informing Venezuelan migrants about their new reality. “They don’t know exactly what context they reach, what weather they are going to find, what services they can have, and that becomes a vulnerability factor,” Melo illustrates.

A LONG STAY
Another problem that has emerged over time has been the fit of Venezuelan migrants in Colombian society. “Colombia is not a country that has historically been exposed to migration from abroad. On the contrary, we have been an expelling country, so that ends up being a new challenge because … we had never had to live this,” he explains.

Melo acknowledges that there have been “practices, even from the institutional framework, I don’t know if they are xenophobic but that they do show a rejection of the one that comes from outside”, and attributes it to the problems that already existed in the communities

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