Global Human Rights Defence

Not wanted: the situation of Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia

Venezuelan Family walking through the Colombian highways @Photograph: CanalRCN

Natalia Hernández, GHRD, April 2021

“It was tough to leave all our family, everything known to us (…) I have cried for months”- Lissette (Venezuelan immigrant living in Bogotá).

Venezuela’s economic, cultural, and political turmoil has resulted in exile and emigration to other countries in the region. Colombia is currently hosting the most significant number of migrants globally (around 1.8 million; Banco Mundial, 2021). Deciding to migrate is not the only difficult thing that Venezuelans have to face. Leaving their home is simply the beginning of the ordeal. Even though the routes to their destination are entirely insecure and unsafe (Janetsky, 2021), they encountered other serious challenges that lead to violation of Human Rights once they have reached their destinations within Colombia. 

Among them, practices such as rejections at the border, expulsions or collective deportations, and the difficulty of many people to obtain passports or other official documents. Additionally, they encounter discrimination, threats to their life and personal integrity, sexual and gender violence, abuse and exploitation, human trafficking, the disappearance of migrants and refugees, and the discovery of clandestine graves in borderlines areas and migratory routes. Obstacles in access to humanitarian assistance further exacerbate the problem; particularly, access to housing, health, food, education, and other essential services (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2018). Likewise, due to their situation of extreme vulnerability and poverty, many Venezuelans are more at risk of being victims of human trafficking. Facing the danger of sexual exploitation, forced prostitution, labour exploitation, servitude and practices analogous to slavery, among others (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Acnur) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), 2021).

Main Human Rights Violations


The first and most concerning situation Venezuelans have to encounter is the lack of possibilities to obtain an official identification. Either because the receiving states do not recognize Venezuelan documents or deny issuing any other identification document, Venezuelans mostly live there undocumented. According to the most recent data delivered by Migration Colombia, with a cut to December 31, 2020, there are more than one million 729 thousand Venezuelans migrants within the national territory, of which more than 966 thousand—about 56% —is undocumented (Colombian Foreign Affairs Ministry, 2021). This condition brings many dire consequences. For example, not having identification makes it impossible for Venezuelans to have formal jobs, have access to private or credit entities, rental contracts, public health, or education. As described by Juan Navarrete from the Association of Venezuelans Avila – Monserrate: 


“The first is the issue of identification, the right to identity. It is the main difficulty. The lack of identity leads to the impossibility of getting a formal job. Consequently, they move into the world of informality (…). Being under these conditions of informality has led them to a world (one could say) of labour exploitation”. 

Once Venezuelans have arrived at their destination, they have to search for ways to survive. Without the possibilities to enter into a formal job market (although the majority of them are highly educated professionals) drives them to take any job offer available even when it does not comply with minimum conditions (Semana, 2017). Informal sectors, such as prostitution, have increased as a consequence of this situation. As stated by Lissette, a Venezuelan immigrant: 

“It is very hard to find jobs; I have to start cleaning houses, selling coffee in the streets, everything they offered me I would take it.” 


The majority of Venezuelan migrants and refugees living in Latin America have faced evictions or risks of expulsion from their homes mainly due to “the inability to pay for housing and public services.”  reveals a study by International Organizations (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Acnur) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), 2021).

The study explains that the majority of Venezuelan migrants live for rent in private houses or rooms with verbal contracts and without the “minimum conditions” or enough rooms to form a home (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Acnur) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), 2021). Before the pandemic, conflicts already existed due to the “lack of opportunities and livelihoods” of migrants to pay rent. The situation has worsened due to unemployment and the health and social crisis generated by the Covid- 19 pandemic (France24, 2021).

“I know Venezuelans who are having a hard time. We met a professional plastic surgeon who has had to sleep on the streets because he could not get a daily living by selling candies on the Transmilenio [please add translation here].”- Lissette 

Venezuelan woman and children homeless in Bogotá @Photograph: Fernando Vergara/AP


There are accounts of xenophobic and discriminatory practices against Venezuelan people in Colombia (Galindo, 2021). Instances of insults, abuse by the authorities and individuals, extortion, and stigmatizing and criminalizing Venezuelan people by blaming them for increasing the rates of violence in their countries and removing jobs to nationals have all been recorded (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2018). Venezuelans are not only considered responsible for increased insecurity in host countries; they are also accused of being the focus of all kinds of illnesses, both physical and social (Ávila, 2018). In Colombia, they blame Venezuelan women for the increase in infidelities and even families’ disintegration. Any negative event in these countries already has some perfectly responsible: Venezuelans (Ávila, 2018).

These notions have their consequences: protests and attacks against Venezuelan migrants have been consistently reported. Mass graves with the remains of migrants have also been denounced, and in Colombia, the death of Venezuelans has increased by 244% (Galindo, 2021). According to official data, Venezuelan migrants were more frequent victims of the main and most serious violent crimes than Colombian nationals. In 2020, a Venezuelan woman in Colombia was twice as likely to die violently as a Colombian woman, according to data from Medicina Legal; a 39% higher risk of suffering intimate partner violence; 28% of being subjected to sexual violence. For both sexes, the probability of suffering any type of violence was 21% higher for Venezuelans than for Colombians; Venezuelan men were 14% more likely to die in homicide than their host neighbours (Galindo, 2021).

Data from a multi-country survey focused on measuring the degree and forms of vulnerability among Venezuelan migrants, particularly those with problems in securing stable and adequate housing (almost all, in fact), point in a similar direction: one in four would have suffered some type of aggression since leaving their country (Galindo, 2021). 

I have been scared of people recognizing my accent several times. I try to hide as much as possible where I come from” – Lissette. 

International Commitments and Internal Legislation 

As seen, Colombia has faced multiple challenges with the massive arrival of Venezuelan immigrants. To improve their situation and comply with the International and Inter-American obligations in Human Rights (Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2014), Colombia has developed a series of internal decrees and legislation to protect Venezuelan rights. As such, we can mention the National Constitution, which recognizes in its Article 100, that foreigners will enjoy the same guarantees granted to the nationals (Administrative Department of Public Functions, 2021). 

Furthermore, through Resolution 5797 of 2017, the Special Permit of Permanence (PEP) was created as a mechanism of facilitation of immigration for Venezuelan nationals, which would avoid labour exploitation of these foreigners and ensure their stay in decent conditions in the country (Administrative Department of Public Functions, 2018). Despite this, it has been evidenced that large groups of the migrant population have not been given the treatment and basic requirements established in said measures (either because they are expensive or difficult to access or due to lack of information) and do not have their coverage (Administrative Department of Public Function, 2018). 

Most recently, the Temporary Protection Statute, adopted by Colombia in March 2021, which provides for registration and the issuance of permits for ten years, generates high expectations as to be the first instrument of its kind in the region and that seeks to legalize the situation of 1 million Venezuelans expeditiously (Dannemann, 2021). However, although it is a noble attend, it is fear it will not be enough, as such Juan Navarrete Association of Venezuelans Avila – Monserrate stated: 

“It is not enough because, for example, it will not include people who arrive after January 1, 2021. That is, we will continue to have a population that continues to be in vulnerable conditions and lack of regularization and identity”.

In terms of discrimination, Colombia has signed several international treaties that aimed to avoid any kind of discrimination (e.g., the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination or the Convention on discrimination in respect of employment and occupation). However, some state officials have been caught spreading xenophobic and discriminatory speeches without further consequences (Sedano, 2021).

In conclusion, it is crucial to be attentive to the call made by several international organizations and follow the recommendations made to issue public policies that seek to protect the rights of this vulnerable population. Adapt a public policy for transit and the safe stay of Venezuelans in Colombia is extremely important. It is imperative to protect the rights of these people who have already encountered serious violations of Human Rights in their respective country and try to guarantee them a dignified stayed. 


  • Administrative Department of Public Function. (2018, 07 25). Decree 1288 of 2018. Retrieved from Administrative Department of Public Function:
  • Administrative Department of Public Function. (2021, 03). Decree No. 2016 of 2021. Retrieved from Colombian Presidency:
  • Ávila, K. (2018, 10). OPINIÓN OCTUBRE 2018 ¿Un éxodo venezolano? Retrieved from Nueva Sociedad:
  • Banco Mundial. (2021). Apoyo a la migración Venezolana. Retrieved from Banco mundial:
  • Colombian Foreign Affairs Ministry. (2021, 02 08). ABC Estatuto Temporal de Protección – Migrantes Venezolanos. Retrieved from Colombian Foreign Affairs Ministry:
  • Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (2014, 02 10). Derechos y deberes de los migrantes. Retrieved from Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Colombianosune:
  • Dannemann, V. (2021, 02 16). Estatuto para migrantes venezolanos: ¿seguirá América Latina el ejemplo de Colombia? Retrieved from Deutsche Welle:
  • France24. (2021, 02 17). Mayoría de migrantes venezolanos en Latinoamérica sufren desalojos por la pandemia. Retrieved from France24:
  • Galindo, J. (2021, 03 21). Migrantes venezolanos en Colombia: los datos que la xenofobia no cuenta. Retrieved from El País:
  • Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (2018, 03 02). Migración forzada de personas Venezolanas. Retrieved from RESOLUCIÓN 2/18:
  • Janetsky, M. (2021, 02 10). Colombia y Venezuela: las expectativas de miles de migrantes venezolanos ante la decisión de Duque de regularizar su estatus. Retrieved from BBC News:
  • Sedano, R. (2021, 03 13). La alcaldesa de Bogotá levanta críticas por relacionar a migrantes venezolanos con la inseguridad. Retrieved from France24:
  • Semana (2017, 03 25). El triste éxodo de los venezolanos a Colombia. Retrieved from
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Acnur) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). (2021, 02). Encuesta regional de desalojos de las personas refugiadas y migrantes de Venezuela. Retrieved from Sector Regional de Protección de la Plataforma Regional de Coordinación Interagencial para Refugiados y Migrantes de Venezuela:


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