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

Invisibility

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.” 

Evictions

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

 Discrimination 

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. 

References

  • Administrative Department of Public Function. (2018, 07 25). Decree 1288 of 2018. Retrieved from Administrative Department of Public Function: https://www.funcionpublica.gov.co/eva/gestornormativo/norma_pdf.php?i=87780
  • Administrative Department of Public Function. (2021, 03). Decree No. 2016 of 2021. Retrieved from Colombian Presidency: https://dapre.presidencia.gov.co/normativa/normativa/DECRETO%20216%20DEL%201%20DE%20MARZO%20DE%202021.pdf
  • Ávila, K. (2018, 10). OPINIÓN OCTUBRE 2018 ¿Un éxodo venezolano? Retrieved from Nueva Sociedad: https://www.nuso.org/articulo/un-exodo-venezolano/
  • Banco Mundial. (2021). Apoyo a la migración Venezolana. Retrieved from Banco mundial: https://www.bancomundial.org/es/programs/world-bank-support-to-the-venezuelan-migration/publications
  • Colombian Foreign Affairs Ministry. (2021, 02 08). ABC Estatuto Temporal de Protección – Migrantes Venezolanos. Retrieved from Colombian Foreign Affairs Ministry: https://www.migracioncolombia.gov.co/infografias/abc-estatuto-temporal-de-proteccion-migrantes-venezolanos
  • Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (2014, 02 10). Derechos y deberes de los migrantes. Retrieved from Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Colombianosune: http://www.colombianosune.com/servicios_migrantes/derechos
  • Dannemann, V. (2021, 02 16). Estatuto para migrantes venezolanos: ¿seguirá América Latina el ejemplo de Colombia? Retrieved from Deutsche Welle: https://www.dw.com/es/estatuto-para-migrantes-venezolanos-seguir%C3%A1-am%C3%A9rica-latina-el-ejemplo-de-colombia/a-56592605
  • France24. (2021, 02 17). Mayoría de migrantes venezolanos en Latinoamérica sufren desalojos por la pandemia. Retrieved from France24: https://www.france24.com/es/minuto-a-minuto/20210217-mayor%C3%ADa-de-migrantes-venezolanos-en-latinoam%C3%A9rica-sufren-desalojos-por-la-pandemia
  • Galindo, J. (2021, 03 21). Migrantes venezolanos en Colombia: los datos que la xenofobia no cuenta. Retrieved from El País: https://elpais.com/internacional/2021-03-21/migrantes-venezolanos-en-colombia-los-datos-que-la-xenofobia-no-cuenta.html
  • Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (2018, 03 02). Migración forzada de personas Venezolanas. Retrieved from RESOLUCIÓN 2/18: https://www.acnur.org/fileadmin/Documentos/BDL/2018/11642.pdf?file=fileadmin/Documentos/BDL/2018/11642
  • 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: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-56004730
  • Sedano, R. (2021, 03 13). La alcaldesa de Bogotá levanta críticas por relacionar a migrantes venezolanos con la inseguridad. Retrieved from France24: https://www.france24.com/es/am%C3%A9rica-latina/20210313-bogota-alcaldesa-migrantes-venezolanos-xenofobia
  • Semana (2017, 03 25). El triste éxodo de los venezolanos a Colombia. Retrieved from Semana.com: https://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/venezolanos-en-colombia-y-colombianos-repatriados/519657/
  • 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: https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ENCUESTA%20REGIONAL-FEBRERO16-web.pdf

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Mandakini

Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)
(Europe)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher
(Africa)

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher
(Africa)​

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.

 

Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.