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CHALLENGES FACED IN RECEIVING 1.4 MILLION VENEZUELAN CITIZENS AT THE CENTRE OF COLOMBIA’S DIALOGUE WITH THE COMMITTEE ON MIGRANT WORKERS

6 September 2019

The numerous challenges generated by the reception of 1.4 million Venezuelan citizens were at the centre of the dialogue between the Experts of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and Colombia, as the Committee reviewed the country’s third periodic report. This influx’s linkage to human trafficking, deportation and retention procedures, as well as the provision of healthcare services and education were also discussed by Experts.

Committee Experts expressed appreciation for the efforts made by the Colombian Government to welcome migrants from Venezuela. The situation amounted to a crisis, they said. They asked the delegation to go into detail in presenting measures taken to grapple with the challenges. They asked what coordination policies had been established with other countries in the region as well as at the national level.

Adriana Mejia, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Relations at the Ministry of External Relations of Colombia, said Colombia had received 32 per cent of all Venezuelans that had had to flee their country, welcoming 1.4 million of them. According to some estimates, 468,000 more Venezuelans would arrive in Colombia by December 2019. Despite budgetary and financial constraints, Colombia would not remain indifferent and would not close down its borders.

The Quito Process was a particularly important regional cooperation tool to address this situation. It had led to a recognition of pendular migration as a particular feature of the Venezuelan migratory flows. Colombia was also seeking further international assistance to address development issues linked to the influx of migrants.

Given that there would not be a short-term solution to the crisis in Venezuela, Experts also asked what the State party’s long-term approach was. They requested information on retention practices, as well as on the provision of services to migrants.

In her concluding remarks, Maria Landazuri de Mora, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Colombia, noted that the mastery of the information shown by the delegation had allowed the Committee to get a much broader understanding of the challenges faced by the State party as well as the challenges that lay ahead.

Ms. Mejia said the exchange had been constructive and would help the State party to establish guidelines. Colombia was aware that after a period that would be very complex, in the months and years that lay ahead, this migratory phenomenon would offer opportunities for growth for the country.

Ermal Frasheri, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Colombia, thanked the delegation for its responses, as well as the State party for its efforts in coping with a very difficult situation. The State party should perceive the Committee as a partner in that regard.

Ahmadou Tall, Committee Chairperson, thanked the two Rapporteurs and all the Experts, as well as the delegation.

The delegation of Colombia consisted of representatives of the Ministry of External Relations, the Presidential Council for Human Rights and International Relations, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the Border Patrol, the Special Administrative Unit for Migrations, and the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 11 September to adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Colombia, that it reviewed during the session, and close the session.

Report

The third periodic report of Colombia can be read here CMW/C/COL/3.

Introduction of the Report

ADRIANA MEJIA, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Relations at the Ministry of External Relations of Colombia, said various factors had generated migratory movements that were exceptional. Thus, it was all the more relevant for the delegation to share its worries and reflections with the Committee to identify the best practices and incorporate them in Colombia’s management of its institutions.

After holding extensive consultations with various State institutions and non-governmental organizations, the Ministry of External Relations had submitted a draft bill for a comprehensive reform of migration policies. It took into consideration the Committee’s recommendations. In drafting this bill, the Government had been guided by the Sustainable Development Goal 10.7, on migration and mobility.

To facilitate the access and enjoyment of consular services for Colombians living abroad, the Government had presented a programme called More and Better Services. It envisaged 14 new measures that would improve the provision of services in the 120 Colombian consulates around the world. Between 2014-2018, consular services had been provided to Colombian nationals on over 40,000 occasions, on matters such as medical emergencies, financial precariousness, death, domestic violence and human trafficking.

In Colombia, human trafficking was punishable with sentences between 13 and 23 years. In 2016, Colombia had adopted the National Strategy for Combatting Human Trafficking.

Turning to the influx of Venezuelan migrants, she said the worsening of the multidimensional crisis in Venezuela had been reflected in a mass exodus, which posed an enormous challenge to neighbouring countries. Colombia had received 32 per cent of Venezuelans that had fled their country. It shared a 2,219-kilometre border with Venezuela along which there were four types of migratory movements.

First, return migration: Colombians who had emigrated from Colombia were coming back to their country of origin. Second, pendular migration, that was Venezuelans who came to Colombia in search of goods, health care services or work, on a temporary basis. After accessing the good or activity they came looking for, these people went back to their country, after a few hours or a few days. In the past two years, there had been more than 3 million pendular migrants. Third, transition migration, that was the movement of Venezuelans who transited through Colombia en route to other countries, mainly in the south of the continent. Lastly, destination migration: some Venezuelans came to Colombia aiming to resettle there permanently.

Between the beginning of the crisis and 30 June 2019, Colombia had received 1,408,055 Venezuelan citizens. About 48 per cent of them were women and 14 per cent of them were under the age of 18. Out of the total of Venezuelan migrants that had entered Colombia, 742,390 were in a regular situation and 665,665 of them were going through a regularization process. Based on research and projections made by various sources, including the Brookings Institution, it was estimated that by December 2019, 468,000 more Venezuelans would arrive in Colombia.

Colombia had addressed this challenge with an unshakable commitment of the authorities and the Colombian people, who despite budgetary and financial constraints would not remain indifferent and would not close down borders.

In November 2018, the Office of President Ivan Duque had adopted the Strategy for Addressing Migration from Venezuela. Services had been provided to 55,943 pregnant Venezuelan women, 181,421 Venezuelan children and adolescents, in education institutions, as well as to 65,506 very young Venezuelan children, a majority of whom were under the age of 5. The Government had decided to grant Colombian nationality to the children of Venezuelan parents who had been born in Colombia since 2015.

The interest and commitment of the President’s Government on this matter was based on solidarity, humanity, historical gratitude and cooperation with a sister nation.

Questions by Committee Experts

MARIA LANDAZURI DE MORA, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur for Colombia, regarding the influx of Venezuelan migrants, said the Colombian Government and people had faced the situation with responsibility. The number of Venezuelan refugees and the circumstances required that this matter be managed in a spirit of co-responsibility both at the regional and global levels.

On the draft legal framework that had been submitted to Colombia’s Congress, she asked when it would be discussed and when it would enter into force. The Committee hoped it would be done well before the State party’s next report.

The deprivation of liberty should be a measure of last resort, she stated, asking for explanations on the use of “retention” of migrants in the State party. There had been cases of arbitrary detention of property, as well as cases of discrimination and ill-treatment, targeting informal vendors. She requested an explanation on this matter as well as on the detention of property of pendular migrants.

There had been an expression of xenophobic ideas, notably in poor communities that were impacted by the arrival of migrants, as well as in the press. What actions had been taken to fight such expression of xenophobia? What sanctions had been imposed on those who had sought to undermine the dignity of migrants?

Given that there would not be a short-term solution to the crisis in Venezuela, and taking into consideration the existence of temporary permits, she asked what the State party’s long-term approach was. How would these temporary permits be made permanent?

On the naturalization of children, she commended the measures taken by the Government. What measures had the Government taken to grant nationality to children born in Colombia to foreign parents, without discrimination with regard to their parents’ nationality.

How did the Government intend to harmonize the welcoming procedure to distinguish between migrant workers and would-be refugees, she enquired? This distinction was paramount.

She requested information on migrant children’s access to education.

ERMAL FRASHERI, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Colombia, expressed appreciation for the efforts made by the Government to welcome migrants from Venezuela and from other countries. The dialogue should be seen as a resource that would help the State party address challenges faced in Colombia. He asked what the “pressure points” had been with regard to migrations in Colombia. What resources would the State party need to address them? In particular, what areas of the Convention had proven the most challenging to implement?

He asked if asylum seekers had the right to work and requested information on labour market integration measures. Did the Government have any plans to improve the recognition of migrants’ credentials? What measures was it taking to build capacity in governmental bodies that interacted with migrants?

Could the delegation provide more information on cooperation with neighbouring countries, the areas in which it took place, and the countries that were involved in it?

Another Expert said the Committee would like to hear more about efforts to address human trafficking. Colombia was an origin, transit and destination country in that regard. What was the current state of affairs, notably as regards the presence of armed groups on the territory and their use of children to harvest illegal crops? While efforts made by the State to handle these issues had to be commended, more information was needed on this matter, including on its links to the current increased influx of Venezuelan migrants.

AHMADOU TALL, Committee Chairperson, said Committee members had noted that the country was facing a migration crisis. He asked the delegation to go into detail in presenting measures taken to grapple with that challenge.

He asked what coordination policies had been established with other countries in the region as well as the national level. What measures had been taken to ensure migrants’ access to justice?

Could the delegation provide cases of jurisprudence on sentences related to human trafficking?

Noting that the delegation had said that by 2020, 8 million migrants would have resettled in Colombia, Mr. Tall noted that that was a significantly large number. How was the Government preparing to address this situation?

He also requested information about the role of the National Human Rights Institution and civil society organizations.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the draft bill on migration was meant to provide an overall framework. It had been presented to Congress and there would be four debates before it moved before the executive. It was not possible to tell when the bill would be adopted, but it would probably be at the end of 2020.

In Colombia, there were no capture or detention orders. Migrants could be brought to transitory migratory centres, where individuals were sheltered and cared for while their documents were being reviewed. This did not amount to arbitrary detention.

The Government did not detain children or adolescents. They sometimes came under the protection of the Government, which sought to determine whether their rights had been undermined. In cases where children or adolescents had been subjected to sexual exploitation or other violations, they were cared for by the Government, which could notably host them in specialized institutions.

All administrative processes were regulated in step with administrative codes. All citizens going through deportation procedures could appeal decisions, notably through administrative courts.

As regards the retention of the property of informal vendors at the border, it was a police action. The police monitored merchandise that was coming in, in line with the regulatory framework.

In Colombia, there was no widespread or general xenophobic sentiment. However, there were instances of xenophobic discourses. There was no place for hate against migrants in Colombia. The policy of the Government was based on humanitarianism. Xenophobic comments and ideas had been clearly and systematically denounced by high-ranking governmental officials.

A campaign had been rolled out in the schools to prevent xenophobia in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration. In cooperation with the World Bank, the Government would launch a widespread campaign for the prevention of xenophobia. This showed the commitment of the Government to act and address this problem at the highest level.

The Government was aware that it was addressing migratory flows the speed and scale of which it had not been prepared to manage. It has also created transit permits that allowed persons transiting through Colombia to be regularized and go on their journey without having to turn to dangerous recourse or networks.

The State did not make a distinction between migrants and refugees. It depended on the will of the migrant. Some 7,800 requests for asylum filled by Venezuelans were currently being reviewed. Decisions would be rendered on the basis of the criteria set forth in relevant international instruments. Meanwhile, they would be able to work. The Government was working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights so that these cases could be processed with more celerity.

On education, next to health, this was the area in which there had been the most progress in relation to migration. Around 180,000 Venezuelans were studying in Colombian schools. The Government had decided to move forward with measures that would cover all children, ensuring they could attend primary and secondary schools. It would address all access-related matters, in step with articles 30 and 43 of the Convention.

Responding to the Experts’ questions on the most difficult challenges faced by the State party, a delegate remarked that Colombia was taking on debt to address issues created by the Venezuelan migratory flows. The amount of money per capita that the international community had provided was in some cases 10 times smaller than the funds it had released for other crisis that had generated forced displacements. The Government had a 50 million debt towards regional hospitals that had provided free healthcare to migrants, regardless of their migratory status. Colombia had also provided vaccines. There were now cases of migrants suffering from high-cost illnesses such as HIV and cancer, which required funds beyond those that the Government had. It was in the health care sector that the Government had the most pressing financial needs.

The Government had a flexible migration regime, notably for work migration. Foreigners from certain countries could stay in Colombia for up to 180 days without a visa to take part in job search related activities, such as interviews. On the residency visas, all of them had open-ended permits. Over the past few years, 70,000 labour permits had been issued.

In seeking regional solutions to the Venezuelan migratory flows, Colombia believed it was important to exchange information, cooperate to provide services such as healthcare to migrants, as well as give assistance to victims of human trafficking. Many meetings had taken place in that regard, including with authorities of Peru, Panama, Argentina, Brazil, the Organization of American States and the Andean Community. The Quito Process was a particularly important regional cooperation means. It had led to a recognition of pendular migration as a particular feature of the Venezuelan migratory flows and the acknowledgement that Colombia shouldered a significant part of the burden generated by these flows.

There was a round-the-clock hot line on human trafficking. There was an operational anti-trafficking centre that regulated services related to emergency and direct services. In 2018, 114 victims had received such services. Indirect victims, that was, spouses or partners of victims, also benefited from the services provided by the Government.

After Syria, the Venezuela migratory flows represented the most complex migration situation in the world, the delegation underscored. This was a complex humanitarian and international situation, which also posed a lot of challenges to Colombia internally, vis-à-vis the Sustainable Development Goals. It that regard, Colombia was seeking further international assistance, and strengthening its cooperation with agencies of the United Nations, to address development issues stemming from the Venezuelan migratory flows.

Additional Questions by the Committee Experts

MARIA LANDAZURI DE MORA, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur for Colombia, asked for information on measures put in place to protect women migrant workers. The Committee had received information about cases of sexual exploitation. How had indigenous peoples been impacted by migration flows?

On Colombian nationals, the Committee had taken note of the improvements the Government had made to the consular mechanisms. How did the Government ensure the reintegration of Colombians returnees?

She requested information on the policy and laws regulating remittances. Were there preferential taxes?

ERMAL FRASHERI, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Colombia, thanked the delegation for the very structured dialogue. He requested information on the loans taken on by the Government to address the migration situation. Who were the creditors?

Regarding knowledge transfer, he asked for stories or examples of Venezuelan workers using skill sets to contribute to the Colombian economy.

In the future, what were the developments that the Government expected? How did it foresee its work evolving?

Another Expert requested information on Colombians working abroad, notably in the United States and in Spain. In terms of remittances, how much were Colombians sending back to the country?

An Expert said that it was rare for the responses to be so well structured. What was the role of civil society in providing care and accommodation to migrants? What system had been implemented to share information with diplomatic missions, including that of States of origin and destination?

What was the state of research on migration in the country, asked another Expert?

AHMADOU TALL, Committee Chairperson, asked if Colombians abroad participated in elections as voters and as candidates. About the five-day delay imposed on migrants whose residency permits expired, he asked if those who were forcibly expelled could appeal the decision. Were they allowed to stay in the country until the final decision was handed down? Did the State provide them with legal assistance?

Additional Responses by the Committee Experts

Delegates explained that special measures had been taken to provide protection measures to women. There were specific actions that had been set up for pregnant migrant women. Over 56,000 mothers had been treated at all stages of maternity. On education, about 49 per cent of the 180,000 Venezuelan children who attended Colombian schools were girls.

There were over 1,000 members of the Venezuelan security forces that had come to Colombia since February. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Government had paid for their hotels for five months. This was a particularly vulnerable situation, and the Government was taking action accordingly, seeking to provide them with permits and protection so they may rebuild their lives in Colombia.

On indigenous peoples, there were 14 indigenous peoples who were moving across the border and the Government was working with the International Organization for Migration to provide them with differentiated support.

Turning to Colombian nationals coming back to the country, since 2012, the Government had put in place a programme Colombia United. There were 10 return centres that provided them with services. Further, a humanitarian assistance system had been created to provide healthcare, housing, and psychosocial support, amongst others.

On Colombians that had been expelled from Venezuela, the delegation explained that those that returned to Colombia did not want to. Colombia had had 15 consulates in Venezuela which it had to close. The Government had established consular border posts to provide services to Colombians living in Venezuela.

As a result of the expropriations carried out in Venezuela, which disregarded the right to property, there had been great losses on the part of the Colombians living there. This had been going on for 20 years.

The Government had been working with the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, amongst others, to obtain loans. There was a possibility that the Government would work with the World Bank to have access to additional funds to continue providing healthcare services to migrants. There had been four loans to Colombia that had been created through the Inter-American Development Bank for action on four areas, including water and urban development. The Government was seeking to solve structural resources that were tied to migratory flows.

Remittances were the third source of income for Colombia. There were service fairs organized in consulates, where advice was provided to Colombians on the use of remittances as well as information investment opportunities in housing and pension plans, amongst others.

The Convention spoke of cooperation and the need for collaboration amongst States, a delegate recalled. Cooperation depended on the goodwill of States. The Quito Process and other fora were important in that regard.

The Government had to be prepared in the medium term, not only because the humanitarian situation was complex, but also because resources were required to integrate people in the formal economy. More substantive support from the international community was needed for this to be achieved.

The Colombian Government did not have a specific census for Colombians living abroad. There were approximately 5 million of them. In the Government’s opinion, this number was fairly close to reality, albeit being an estimate. There were about 120 consulates that provided services to this population, including the Colombian Immigrant Abroad Guidebooks, which offered a lot of information in a didactic and practical format.

The National Institute for Human Rights was the Ombudsman’s Office, which was present in 38 regions of Colombia. It covered the whole of the territory, discharging its mandate in line with the Paris Principles. To that end, it used the traditional mechanism set out in the Constitution and laws for the promotion and protection of human rights.

There was an integrated service that recorded all the Colombians detained abroad and their status; 22.5 per cent of all Colombians detained abroad were in Ecuador. There were legal counsellors in Colombian consulates that, while not allowed to represent Colombian detainees, made sure that their rights were respected.

There was a network of researchers abroad, and measures had been put in place to share knowledge about and within the Colombian diaspora. In the draft bill, the Government was fostering high-level academic level exchanges.

Colombians abroad were part of the electoral census and could vote in presidential and congressional elections. Colombians who turned 18 years old abroad could also vote in these elections. Two months before each election, people could go to the consular offices and register to vote. Voting was held over multiple days in consular offices, so that people who did not live in cities where there was one could make arrangements to travel and vote. In May 2018, there were 800,000 potential voters located abroad. Colombians abroad could also have a representative before the Congress of the Republic.

On the five-day delay to leave the country, the delegation explained that when an individual did not leave within that period, a new deportation process was launched. Before that, there was a possibility to obtain an extension of the delay or file an appeal. Administrative measures could be made public so that they may be confirmed, overturned or appealed by administrative tribunals.

Delegates explained that assistance and protection measures were provided to victims of trafficking. These programmes unfolded under the principles of dignity, good faith and confidentiality, amongst others. Medical care, psychological care, dignified lodging, cleaning materials as well as security and safety-related support was offered to them.

There was coordination amongst departments and municipal and district units that worked on the provision of services to trafficking victims. When the victims were minors, the Family Ombudsman’s Office, family courts and other relevant bodies were seized of the matter.

On the collection of data abroad, measures had been taken to improve the way in which statistics were gathered, notably as regarded the situation of Venezuelan citizens. There was a coordination body that had been put in place in that regard.

Concluding Remarks

MARIA LANDAZURI DE MORA, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur for Colombia, said the Committee was deeply grateful for the dialogue. She noted the mastery of the information shown by the delegation that had allowed the Committee to get a much broader understanding of the challenges faced by the State party as well as the challenges that lay ahead.

She said that the pending adoption of the new legislation on migrations would be a very favourable step for the Colombian State and Colombians. It could be an instrument that would lead to a broad social discussion and of which society should have ownership. There was a lack of regional cooperation and of global assistance, and the Committee was strengthening the call for additional resources to assist Colombia in its efforts to address the Venezuelan migrations.

The Committee recommended that the Colombian State develop a mechanism to address the disappearance of people travelling on foot across borders. It was aware that the State party was developing mechanisms for unaccompanied migrants. Colombia should be ready to take additional steps and address situations marked by disappearances, including forced disappearance.

Among the best news that had come out of the continent, there was the signing of the peace accords. The Committee valued the peace process. More broadly, it was important to prevent that the violence and chaos from some countries extended to other countries.

ERMAL FRASHERI, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Colombia, thanked the delegation for its responses, as well as the State party for its efforts in coping with a very difficult situation. The State party should perceive the Committee as a partner in that regard.

ADRIANA MEJIA, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Relations at the Ministry of External Relations of Colombia, thanked the Committee. She said that the exchange had been constructive and would help Colombia to establish guidelines. It would now delve deeper into its work. Colombia was aware that after a period that would be very complex in the months and years that lay ahead, this migratory phenomenon would offer opportunities for growth for the country.

AHMADOU TALL, Committee Chairperson, thanked the two Rapporteurs and all the Experts. The cooperation had been strong throughout the dialogue.


For use of the information media; not an official record

CMW19.011E