Latin America has experienced an increase in migratory flows due to armed conflicts in the region, such as in Nicaragua, El Salvador or Colombia. However, none of the migratory flows from these crises have reached the levels seen with the ongoing Venezuelan refugee and migrant crisis. This crisis has caused the displacement of 7,239,953 people globally, 6,095,464 of which are in Latin America and Caribbean countries.This phenomenon has been recognized as one of the largest refugee and migrant crisis worldwide, thus receiving attention from several humanitarian assistance actors such as UN agencies and international and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Even more remarkable, and sometimes overlooked, is the intervention of the Venezuelan diaspora in supporting the needs of their fellow Venezuelans.
The Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela has caused the forced displacement of Venezuelan people, both externally and internally, due to a combination of factors including the economic and public services collapse that exacerbated food insecurity, along with widespread violence and human rights violations. Over the last 5 years, Colombia has been the main destination country for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, due to shared cultural ties such as language, and an extended common border, which is reflected in the 2,477,588 people that have entered the country as of March 2023.
It is worrying that this crisis is one of the least funded humanitarian crises in the world. In 2021, the Organization of American States (OAS) stated that “a Venezuelan refugee is worth ten times less than a Syrian refugee”. A sad reality which was confirmed by the inclusion of Venezuela on the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations’ list of forgotten crises. Furthermore, according to the Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, of the required US $1.79 billion only US $667 million was received for the implementation of all the proposed initiatives in 2022. In the specific case of Colombia, of the identified US $802 million only US $366 million were effectively received for supporting the Venezuelan refugee and migrant population.
Within this context, it is necessary to highlight the role of Venezuelan diaspora organisations in Colombia, as they can identify and reach Venezuelans throughout the country, mostly through digital channels on social media. Refugees and migrants rely on social media to search for information, to create interactions that add volunteers to their cause, and to increase the visibility of their activities and results allowing international cooperation organisations to recognize them as potential strategic allies. The objectives of these organisations include providing humanitarian assistance, providing information and advice on rights and legal procedures, and creating spaces and programs for integration into Colombian society.
This has been the case of the Yellow Hands Foundation. In face of the upward migratory trend since 2017, the Yellow Hands Foundation has dedicated efforts to assist the so-called “walkers” with food, clothes and medicine in border areas and/or along the routes they take to reach Colombian capital cities, or continue to countries such as Peru, Ecuador, or the United States. Also, organisations such as Venezuelans in Barranquilla have focused on disseminating information regarding the implementation of the Temporary Protection Statute for Venezuelan Migrants, enacted by the Colombian government in February 2021, which allows socio-economic integration, access to social benefits and transition from a temporary legal status to a resident visa within a period of 10 years. Furthermore, the corporation Venezuelan Colony in Colombia fosters entrepreneurship programs that go beyond socio-cultural integration activities and aims to boost refugee and migrant communities’ growth and productivity by strengthening small and medium-sized businesses led by entrepreneurs.
It is interesting to note how different migratory movements can be evidenced due to the current humanitarian crisis, since most of the Venezuelan organisations also support Colombian returnee populations that were initially hosted in Venezuela from the 1970s onwards because of the internal armed conflict in Colombia and the then favorable economic situation in Venezuela. Such is the case of the De Pana Que Sí Foundation that emerged after the diplomatic crisis that led to the closure of the border between Colombia and Venezuela in 2015, which encouraged the founder to also assist Colombian returnees and their Venezuelan children with procedures to obtain their nationality.
Although diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela have been reestablished, the migratory flow continues to increase and the challenges persist, as a study on financial inclusion conducted by the World Bank concludes that 96% of the Venezuelan people interviewed mentioned their intention to stay in Colombia. Therefore, Venezuelan diaspora organisations remain as valuable as ever, and it is worth applauding that they have combined their efforts as members of the Coalition for Venezuela, a recognized federation by the OAS that aims to articulate its actions inside and outside Venezuela.
It is important to remember that these organisations are not alone in this task, as they have established alliances with agencies of the United Nations system, as well as international organisations, Colombian government institutions, and Colombian private sector organisations and academic institutions. It is through the creation of support networks with stakeholders that regularization campaigns will have the desired reach and the reduction of discrimination against Venezuelans would be effectively tackled, thus allowing the successful integration of those who wish to remain in Colombia.