COMMITTEE ON PROTECTION OF MIGRANT WORKERS AND THEIR FAMILIES CONSIDERS THE REPORT OF COLOMBIA
16 April 2013
The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families today completed its consideration of the second periodic report of Colombia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
Presenting the report Alvaro Calderón Ponce De León, Director of Migration Issues and Consular and Citizen Services at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, said the benefits of migration could be seen all over Latin America; it was a very positive thing that contributed not only to development and financial advantages but also brought cultural and social benefits to a country. Colombia was an emigrating, or ‘sending’ country as well as a transit country, and 4.7 million Colombians (nine per cent of the population) lived outside the country. Colombia worked alongside its regional neighbours and with MERCOSUR to stamp out trafficking and to ensure effective legal instruments were in place to prosecute perpetrators. It had also launched processes for the regularization of migrants; and to assist Colombian migrants who wanted to return home.
Sergio Bueno Aguirre, Director of the Special Administrative Unit for Migration in Colombia, spoke about the work of the new Unit, which operated to provide a service to people arriving in Colombia who needed to integrate themselves; to provide for safety and security, partly by ascertaining the identity of migrants; and thirdly to ensure the human rights of migrants. In 2012 9.4 million migrants entered, left or transited Colombia, of whom 65 per cent were Colombia nationals and 35 per cent were foreigners, while 95 per cent came as temporary visitors and 4 per cent came as seasonal workers. The Unit also provided technical, humanitarian and human rights training to the 1,500 immigration officers who worked at the 35 Migration Control Posts at border checkpoints in Colombia.
Committee Experts asked questions about the internal armed conflict in Colombia and its impact on migration, about trafficking in persons, regularization of migrants, the dramatic situation facing migrants in border regions, services provided to Colombian refugees, the rights of child migrants, internally displaced persons, consular services for Colombian migrants living abroad, particularly for returnees, labour conditions for seasonal migrant workers in the tobacco industry, and the ‘brain drain’ of skilled and educated Colombians.
In concluding remarks Abdelhamid El Jamri, Committee Chairperson, thanked the State party for all they had done to champion the human rights of migrants and their families, not just in Colombia but across the region and encouraged the State party to continue its steps to not only fully implement the Convention but for awareness-raising of it.
In concluding remarks Alvaro Calderón Ponce De León, Director of Migration Issues and Consular and Citizen Services, said that Rome was not built in a day and the Convention would not be implemented in a day either, but Colombia was committed to the hilt to its full application. Migration was a growing phenomenon that the International Organization of Migration said would grow threefold in 2013, and the Committee was a vital forum for the rights of migrants.
The delegation of Colombia included representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Special Administrative Unit for Migration, the Ministry of Labour, Directorate of Labour Migration Policy Management and the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations in Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will begin consideration of the second periodic report of Bolivia (C/CMW/BOL/2).
Report of Colombia
The second periodic report of Colombia can be read via the link: (C/CMW/COL/2).
Presentation of the Report
ALVARO CALDERÓN PONCE DE LEÓN, Director of Migration Issues and Consular and Citizen Services at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, said the benefits of migration could be seen all over Latin America, both in sending and receiving countries, and Colombia believed it was a very positive thing that contributed not only to development and financial advantages but also brought cultural and social benefits to a country. The Constitution guaranteed the rights of all migrants. The Government believed in equality of movement and trans-border migration. Barriers restricting migration needed to be broken down as those barriers restricted both a freedom and a right. Colombia was an emigrating, or ‘sending’ country. It was important to recall the geographical location of Colombia, which was a corridor country, in order to travel from the south of Latin America up to North America a person had to go through Colombia – it was a transit country. Statistics just two days ago showed that 4.7 million Colombians lived outside the country, amounting to approximately 9 per cent of the population. A sound migration policy was vital, and the Government had enlisted the help of not just politicians and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but also members of civil society and academia to write the report, as those organizations helped formulate migration policy and particularly acted as channels of communications with Colombians abroad, for example in New York.
The Convention was a very significant instrument in governing migratory flows, and Colombia would like to see greater political will from international organizations in its promotion, especially to encourage receiving countries to sign and ratify it. In light of the global financial crisis sending countries were rapidly turning into receiving countries. Colombia strongly rejected any policy that allowed trafficking in persons, which was not migration. It also rejected the criminalization of migration: migration was not a crime, and migrants were not criminals. Colombia worked alongside its regional neighbours to stamp out trafficking and to ensure that the legislature had the most effective legal instruments to be able to prosecute perpetrators of trafficking in persons. The vast majority of victims of trafficking were women: 92 per cent in 2012 and 90 per cent in 2011. A three-strand approach was used to protect victims, tackling sexual exploitation, forced labour and also forced or early marriage. In 2011, 21 cases of Colombian victims of internal domestic trafficking and 38 cases of cross-border trafficking were dealt with.
Colombia had launched two processes for the regularization of migrants; in 2001 and again in 2008. The volume of people regularized was low compared to other countries in the region but the system was currently being reformed. Colombia was a State party to MERCOSUR (the Southern Common Market) and worked together with it and its partners to establish a common approach to regularize migrants. To assist Colombian migrants who wanted to return home a programme was launched in 2009. That programme had been widely disseminated through Embassies and Consulates abroad, including mobile Consulates that moved to areas with identified large Colombian populations. Expositions were held in receiving countries where Colombians lived, particularly in Europe. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also ran online services, such as the Colombians Abroad programme that helped with practicalities of preparing a return to Colombia. A 2009 law for returnees ensured that resources were provided across the board but particularly to the most vulnerable, while law 1465 of 2011, which was drafted in consultation with civil society, established a National System of Migrants to further help migrants exercise their rights.
SERGIO BUENO AGUIRRE, Director of the Special Administrative Unit for Migration in Colombia, spoke about the work of the Unit which was established 16 months ago. The Unit for Migration operated on the basis of three pillars: to provide a service to people arriving in Colombia who needed to integrate themselves; provide for safety and security, partly by ascertaining the identity of arrivals and ensuring people had their travel documents in line; and thirdly ensuring the human rights of migrants. In 2012 9.4 million migrants entered, left or transited Colombia, of whom 65 per cent were Colombia nationals and 35 per cent were foreigners, while 95 per cent came as temporary visitors and 4 per cent came as seasonal workers.
Training was very important, and the 1,500 immigration officers who worked at the 35 Migration Control Posts, located at border checkpoints in Colombia, were trained in international and humanitarian human rights law, in delivering a human service and technical training on how to assess travel documents and other relevant issues. The 35 check-points were being strengthened day by day, with a service-orientated approach. Foreigners were registered, asked, for example, for their mobile phone number, and were made aware they had the same rights as Colombians, and were given background checks to ensure they had a legal status. Providing for human rights did not have to undermine security. To help tackle trafficking the Unit gave out information via the internet, Twitter and YouTube, and also via postcards given to Colombians leaving the country which gave them contacts should they ever fall victim to trafficking.
Mr. Aguirre also spoke about upcoming activities of the Unit for Migration, which included a report due in June on labour migration, which would detail the nationality of migrant labourers to help the Government care for them. Also, a conference had been organized for November 2013 with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the International Organization of Migration and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, on irregular migration.
Questions from the Experts
FRANCISCO CARRIÓN MENA, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur, said that Colombia had suffered a situation of domestic violence which made the tasks of managing migration very difficult. Colombia must be praised for its work in implementing the Convention, he said, hoping that the peace process underway would be fruitful, as it would not only be vital for the well-being of Latin America but also for the world. The lack of statistical data in the report was striking. It was true that almost all countries submitting reports had difficulties in collecting statistical data, particularly on irregular migration, so could the delegation explain their difficulties? The Rapporteur praised the involvement of academia, namely the University of Bogota, in preparing the report, which should be applauded. There were 800 Colombian non-governmental organizations working in the field of migration: how had they been involved?
The Rapporteur asked about the conditions of detention for undocumented, in-transit migrant workers. He applauded the regularization processes for migrants, particularly in border areas, especially bordering Ecuador and Venezuela. Those areas were extremely complicated and often difficult to access, being remote. Could the delegation give more information on how the Government intended to tackle regularization in remote border areas? The State party said 90 per cent of applicants for regularization were successful. What happened to the 10 per cent whose applications were denied?
The situation of Colombian refugees was also raised by the Rapporteur who specifically asked how the Colombian Government related to Colombians abroad, beyond the use of mobile Consulates, in terms of their responsibilities for their own refugees. For example, there were 35,000 Colombians categorized as refugees, living in Ecuador. To what extent was the Government worried about those fellow nationals who had found themselves forced, by the violence that reigned in Colombia, to seek refugee in neighbouring countries?
A Committee Expert asked what rights children had to Colombian nationality when the situation of their parents was irregular: what happened to their right to nationality? What about their right to education? The Expert specifically spoke about children who had migrated to the United States who found themselves in an ever-worsening situation, as new laws there reduced their rights. Consulates in the United States needed to particularly attend to the needs of migrants, particularly irregular migrants. When a migrant was detained, for example in the United States or Europe, they often were not aware of their rights. Many of those would stand a good chance of remaining legally in the country if they only had access to legal advice. The Expert said he believed that deportation cases could be reduced by 30 to 40 per cent if migrants received legal advice in a timely fashion.
Colombia had the third highest level of human trafficking in the world, an Expert said. What were the outcomes of its Anti-Trafficking Programme, which began in 2007? Did the strategy achieve its goals and what were the future perspectives now that the five-year strategy had come to an end? Internally displaced persons had a higher risk of being trafficked, an Expert said. He asked what the State party was doing to prevent traffickers from exploiting those vulnerable people.
What about justice in trafficking; how many cases of trafficking in persons had been prosecuted, how many perpetrators had been found guilty and sentenced, or released and acquitted? The report referred to the difficult of indentifying victims or perpetrators, but statistics on the number of cases brought to court, sentences and length of sentences, should nevertheless be available. The Expert also asked about reparations for victims.
How did the Government act to tackle the ‘brain drain’ of educated and skilled Colombians moving abroad? How successful had the Government been in attempts to curb labour exploitation by the private sector? How was the ‘holistic migration vision’ being developed? An Expert asked for information on the seasonal labour workers in the border areas of Colombia, migrant workers who often worked in the tobacco industry.
Response by the Delegation
In response to these questions and comments and other, the delegation of Colombia said that between 2010 and 2011 a census went out to all 16 million inhabitants of Colombia, and for the first time was also sent to all Colombian migrants abroad and all migrants in Colombia. The census gave a wealth of new information which helped develop and roll out both public and regional policies. The census showed that 4.7 million migrants had left from Colombia, and enabled an understanding of which cities and places in Colombia were ‘responsible’ for the migration explosion. Interestingly the region with the highest levels of emigration was the region most spared from the internal armed conflict in Colombia. Most emigrants had gone to Spain, which was the second most popular destination for Colombian emigrants due to historical ties (after the United States). The majority of Colombian migrants to the United States were working in the job in which they trained, i.e. engineers were working as engineers and doctors were working as doctors in the United States. That was very different in Spain, where almost the reverse was seen and the majority of Colombians were working in the service or construction sector whatever their educational background and skills.
The number of foreigners in Colombia was not clear but in 2012 41,752 identity cards were given out to foreigners living in Colombia. Foreigners, or migrants, were supported by being provided with information at every step of the way, from border crossings, river crossings, seaports and airports onwards. Foreigners were issued with an identification card that would last for a lifetime but needed renewing every five years, which enabled the authorities to keep track of them at least once every five years. The private sector had to report to Migration Colombia whenever they hired a foreign worker, so the Government could see the overall picture and ensure all migrant workers were properly registered and supported.
About 855 non-governmental organizations worked on migration, the majority of which were made up of migrants living abroad and supported fellow nationals there, feeding back to the Government. The vast majority were located in the United States as the largest proportion of Colombian migrants lived there - 37 per cent. Some 23 per cent lived in Spain. At the national level there were separate civil society organizations that worked on issues in the field.
Turning to regularization processes in border areas, a delegate confirmed that the Committee was correct in saying it was very difficult because of the permeability of borders – a problem not just for Colombia but for its neighbours. There was a lot of cross-border movement and also many indigenous communities for whom the frontiers laid down by the State were not anything they respected, or often even knew about. The Government’s ability to manage indigenous communities’ border crossings was very low, as the Committee would surely appreciate. Under MERCOSUR Colombia had agreed with its neighbours Peru and Bolivia on an ‘Entry and Stay’ Residents System that represented the greatest progress made in this area. The ‘Entry and Stay’ system allowed residents of countries signed up to the scheme to move between the countries and stay and work there for up to two years. It was hoped that Ecuador would join the scheme.
Regarding the border with Venezuela, a delegate said that there were about two million movements – entry and exits – because it was so long. The current situation was that very few Venezuelan migrants had been regularized in Colombia, but the Government hoped to work with Venezuela to improve that situation.
In 2008 1,715 people were regularized, while 207 people were refused regularization. Those refused failed to meet two criteria: that they had lived in Colombia for over six months as an irregular migrant, and that they had not previously been expelled. There was an appeal process for those people. Later in the year a new policy called Network of Migrants in Colombia would be launched that would further help those individuals.
Turning to refugees from the armed conflict in Colombia, a delegate said that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that 375,000 to 400,000 people were living outside Colombia either as refugees or were applying for refugee status. Colombian Government figures were slightly less, falling between 330,000 and 340,000 people. There was a specific law to help victims of the armed conflict, particularly in terms of land restitution, and most claims filed under that law were filed in Consulates outside of Colombia. In order to prepare those claims the Government needed to ascertain how many people had been affected by the conflict. Those figures amounted to less than three per cent of the population living outside of the country due to violence and conflict. The Government did not ask people coming back across the border into Colombia whether or not they were returning refugees, as a mark of respect so as not to force them to admit they had fled to conflict, which had an impact on the statistical data they had.
In 2009 a budget of $ 250,000 was given to help refugees return to Colombia. Today the budget had been increased to a total of $ 4 million, as a part of the Return Plan. Additionally a training component which provided for 430 virtual, online courses for Colombians living abroad was worth an additional $ 800,000.
Concerning the rights of children of irregular migrants, a delegate confirmed that any minor had the right to have an identity, a right conferred as a result of an overhaul of the national register of Colombia. A child born in Colombia to foreign-national parents who resided in Colombia could apply for Colombian nationality. Any child of irregular migrants had the right to access education, go to school and to graduate. However the authorities may encourage the parents and the child to regularize their status.
People left Colombia for various reasons, economic and social reasons or the armed conflict, and often those leaving for the latter were people who had been involved in it.
There was a great deal of support provided to Colombians living abroad. The return plan was regulated by Law 1565, as disseminated by the mobile consulates. The returnee just had to verify their Colombian nationality, the consulates would take care of all the paperwork, and the person was free to return to Colombia. All Colombian Consulates had two roles: to provide legal advice and social support. From a penal perspective, Consular officials carried out monthly visits to Colombian nationals held in places of detention abroad in order to guarantee that their rights were upheld and due legal process was observed. A website for Colombians living abroad provided a range of information and support as well, from returning home to tax issues and more. Recently 300 Colombian families returned home from Spain, mainly because they lost their jobs due to the global financial crisis.
A delegate corrected an assertion by a Committee Expert about Colombia’s global ranking in trafficking numbers, saying that Colombia was actually third in terms of reported trafficking in persons cases, not third in terms of numbers. The International Organization of Migration estimated that 800,000 people were trafficked around the world last year and 34 cases of those were reported in Colombia. Victims were often duped and then trafficked to Colombia for sexual exploitation, particularly from border areas. Victims were often of low-social status, unemployed, and the vast majority were women. Victims originated from countries including China, Panama, Japan and the United States. Internal trafficking happened as well, particularly of child soldiers used by the armed groups. Statistics showed that 90 per cent of perpetrators of trafficking were Colombians, and the remaining 10 per cent were from neighbouring countries including Argentina and Chile.
Colombia had worked hard on capacity building to combat trafficking, particularly in Consulates and Embassies around the world. A mandate in the anti-trafficking law was the requirement for the State to take a preventative approach. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, alongside local and municipal authorities, undertook training and awareness-raising exercises at a local level. A Convention signed with the International Organization of Migration to combat cross-border trafficking was in place. A MERCOSUR early-warning system had been very successful and had allowed authorities to prevent several trafficking crimes from taking place.
Reparations for victims of trafficking was provided by the Unit to Counter Trafficking, which gave them all the care and support they needed, including housing and food; medical, psychological, social and legal assistance was provided and also repatriation back to their home country – or Colombia if the victim had been trafficked elsewhere. In 2012, 40 people were arrested for trafficking, and nine convictions were handed down. Trafficking was usually trans-national in nature, and in Colombia they saw recruiters involved in the process, but the victim was usually recruited and exploited elsewhere, meaning the main focus of the crime was outside Colombia.
The Certificate for Proportionality was scrapped in order to streamline the process of employment and to eliminate barriers faced by foreign workers.
Civil society was not directly involved in the drafting of the report because civil society organizations were not obliged, or legally bound, to be involved in doing so. However civil society was involved in the distribution of the report to all interested parties.
Reservations made by Colombia had been made as a consequence of a domestic review by the Constitutional Court. The Committee previously recommended that Colombia consider withdrawing its reservations to Articles 15, 46 and 47 of the Convention. A delegate sought to explain the reservations, starting with Article 15, which stated that no migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be arbitrarily deprived of property, whether owned individually or in association with others. He said that domestic rulings covered that. Article 46 refered to the exemption of taxes and import duties for households leaving the country. The 15 per cent tax collected applied to returnees. As for Article 47, which allowed the diaspora to open bank accounts and transfer their earnings outside of Colombia, the delegate commented that approximately $ 3.9 billion were transmitted back to Colombia in remittances from Colombian expats living abroad each year.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert asked for more information on legislative reforms planned for the near future. He said there appeared to be a lack of clarity about ranking and leadership of the various institutions working on migrants. Colombia’s approach was the right one, and was welcomed, but he would appreciate a clear overview of who did what.
Another Expert asked about Cuban and Chinese people in Colombia. There had been significant increases in those nationals coming to Colombia; what was the procedure for their exit?
The Committee still had great concerns about the dramatic situation facing migrants in border regions, particularly on the shared borders with Colombia and with Ecuador. There were reports of clandestine refugees and migrants which prevented the proper oversight being carried out. Just this week the Committee heard there was an intention to regularize illegal border crossing points – was that true, and how could it be done?
Trafficking was the second most profitable occupation for the mafia or organized gangs, an Expert commented. The trafficking networks were very mobile and difficult to pin down to one country, therefore it had to be tackled regionally, as a cross-border issue. The domestic law on trafficking was really just a ‘dead letter’ not fit for purpose. There was so much corruption and money in those mafia and organized gangs that they simply bought off the authorities who would try to prosecute them. Some local authorities did try to fight back, but they were helpless if the corruption was not weeded out. Could the Convention perhaps be used to launch an appeal for trafficking to be dealt with in a coherent, trans-national way, perhaps with a joint regional anti-trafficking policy? Many victims were unaccompanied children who ended up being victims of trafficking which was a scourge of modern humanity and needed to be stamped out. Victims needed greater recognition across the region.
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said the Committee was correct about the increase in entries of Cuban and Chinese nationals. Many people used Colombia as a transit country for irregular migration, they came from the South, perhaps from Venezuela or Ecuador, on their journey to the United States as their final destination. Those irregular migrants were often victims of trafficking by trans-national gangs. The Navy sometimes picked them up when they travelled by sea, via Panama. A delegate provided some statistics to illustrate the picture, saying that last year 333 of those irregular migrants were from Cuba, 123 from China, 49 from Nepal, 44 from Lebanon and 34 came from Bangladesh. They used false or forged documents and were often detained in airports because one strategy they used was to book an international flight route with a connecting flight via Colombia, but then they stayed in Colombia without actually boarding the second connecting flight.
To tackle the problem the Government worked closely with neighbouring countries, in particular Ecuador, and had established agreements with a number of different organizations within the country to both help the mobility of and protect those irregular migrants, once they were identified. Those people were extremely vulnerable to the criminal gangs operating in certain areas. It was not a crime for people to be an irregular migrant in Colombia nor was it grounds for a custodial sentence. When such a person was identified administrative proceedings were started, liaison with their own national consulate was established, and the person was given somewhere safe to stay.
Returning to border issues, a delegate described other difficulties being the separation of families by borders, and also of very fluid population movements. The borders were extremely rich in criminal activity, from trafficking of narcotics to the smuggling of contraband. Colombia was committed to measures, both domestic and inter-regional, to tackle this enormous problem. Recent new measures included supporting farmers living in the border region, in order to help them make a living from farming. Furthermore a partnership with the International Organization of Migration was launching a new healthcare plan that would cater for 35,000 people living on the border with Ecuador.
A delegate provided some recent statistics on border crossings, and told the Committee that each month approximately 35,000 people crossed the border between Colombia and Ecuador. Approximately 92,927 people crossed over the border between Venezuela and Colombia monthly. Colombia’s border with Panama was crossed by approximately 788 people each month. Very few people crossed the border between Peru and Colombia as the areas were dense jungle where few people lived.
The South American Conference on Migration, established in 1999 with the International Organization of Migration, was very active, and Colombia benefitted from shared knowledge of that body, particularly with the participation of Mexico and Ecuador. The Conference allowed regional countries to identify best practice and learn from each other, discuss issues such as development, diasporas, information exchange and the rights of migrants, and trafficking of persons came very high on the agenda as well. The Conference would hold an Anti-Trafficking Summit in Costa Rica later in 2013.
FRANCISCO CARRIÓN MENA, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for their clear and extremely informative answers and congratulated them on the steps taken so far in implementing the Convention.
ABDELHAMID EL JAMRI, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the quality of the dialogue and their illuminating answers, and thanked the State party for all they had done to champion the human rights of migrants and their families, not just in Colombia but across the region. He encouraged the State party to continue its steps to not only fully implement the Convention but also to continue with awareness-raising of it.
ALVARO CALDERÓN PONCE DE LEÓN, Director of Migration Issues and Consular and Citizen Services at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, thanked the Committee for the fruitful dialogue and said that Rome was not built in a day and the Convention would not be implemented in a day either, but Colombia was committed to the hilt to the full application of the Convention. The delegation would return home boosted and determined to provide for the rights of migrants in their country. They would also bear in mind that migration was a growing phenomenon, that the International Organization of Migration said would grow threefold in 2013. The Committee was a vital forum and it was hoped that a representative could attend the South American Regional Conference on Migration later in the year.
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