Bogotá, Colombia (AP) – Colombia said on Monday it would register hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants and refugees currently in the country without papers, in an effort to provide them with legal residency and facilitate their access to health care and legal work opportunities. .
President Ivan Duque said that with the new Temporary Protection Law, Venezuelan immigrants illegally residing in the country will be eligible for 10-year residence permits, while currently resident immigrants will be able to extend their stay.
The new measure could benefit as many as one million Venezuelans currently living in Colombia without official papers, in addition to the hundreds of thousands who need to renew their temporary entry visas.
President Duque announced preventive measures at a stately government palace in Bogota while standing with Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“As we take this historic step outside of Latin America, we hope other countries will follow our example,” Duque said in a room full of ambassadors and diplomats invited to watch the announcement.
Grandi said that the new policy would improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of poor people, describing it as an “extraordinary gesture” of humanity, pragmatism and commitment to human rights.
The Colombian government estimates that 1.8 million Venezuelans currently live in the country, and 55% of them do not have good papers. Most have arrived since 2015, fleeing hyperinflation, food shortages and an increasingly authoritarian government.
Duque said registering these illegal immigrants and refugees would benefit Colombian security agencies and make the provision of social services, including coronavirus vaccines, more efficient.
The government said that Venezuelans who arrive legally in Colombia can also apply for temporary protection within the next two years.
The new policy comes after Donald Trump signed an executive order in the final days of his presidency to halt the deportations of tens of thousands of Venezuelans residing in the United States.
The new temporary protection law will be implemented in Colombia as immigrants leaving Venezuela find it difficult to settle in other countries in South America, due to the closure of land borders and growing anti-immigrant sentiment.
In Ecuador, hundreds of Venezuelans are stranded on the country’s southern border after Peru’s decision to send tanks and troops to the region to stop illegal border crossings.
Other popular destinations for Venezuelan immigrants are Panama and Chile, which have imposed visa requirements that make it difficult for Venezuelans to move to those countries.
According to the United Nations, there are 4.7 million Venezuelan migrants and other refugees in other Latin American countries after fleeing economic collapse and political division in their home countries. Colombia has more than a third of them.
Duque said that while Colombia’s decision would provide some relief, he did not expect it to halt the transportation of Venezuela.
He said, “If we want to end this crisis, countries should think about how to end dictatorship in Venezuela.” “We need to think about how to form a transitional government and organize free elections.”
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