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Explained: Why has Columbia granted temporary legal status to Venezuelans?

The decision covers more than 1.7 million Venezuelans who have fled to Columbia in the last few years.

Written by Mehr Gill | New Delhi |
Updated: February 11, 2021 8:50:56 am
Filippo Grandi, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, left, stands next to Colombia's President Ivan Duque as he speaks during a joint statement in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. (AP)

On Monday, Columbian President Iván Duque announced that Venezuelans will have temporary protected status for the next ten years in what is being called a “historic” decision. The decision covers more than 1.7 million Venezuelans who have fled to Columbia in the last few years.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi said on Twitter, “Today Colombia gave an extraordinary example to the region and the world by granting temporary protection status for 10 years to all Venezuelans on its territory. My gratitude to President @IvanDuque, and to the Colombian people and government, for this historic, generous act.”

What is the move and what has been the response to it?

According to a report in the New York Times, under this programme, those Venezuelans who entered Columbia without permission before January 31 will be eligible for legalisation and those who already have legal status will have a decade to reapply for permission to stay in the country.

Filippo Grandi, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, left, greets Colombia’s President Ivan Duque, right, after a joint statement in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. (AP)

Duque said that the temporary protection statute is for those Venezuelan migrants who are fleeing dictatorship in their country. “This mechanism allows us to have information to grant them immigration status and, in 10 years, the possibility of a resident visa,” Duque said on Twitter.

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According to Columbian newspaper El Espectador, the government’s move has been welcomed by multiple sectors including the opposition. One Senator, however, Gustavo Bolívar has criticised the move and has said that Duque took this decision to win the upcoming elections. However, as per Columbian law, foreigners cannot vote in electoral processes for the presidency and senate and can only participate in electoral processes for the mayor’s office and the governor’s office, the report in El Espectador says.

Why are Venezuelans fleeing their country?

Venezuela is currently under the authoritarian rule of President Maduro, who belongs to the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and took his position in 2013 after the death of former president Chávez. After completing his first term, Maduro began his second term in January 2019, which is seen by many Venezuelans and members of the international community as illegitimate.

But the country has been facing problems since the mid-2010s when the global boom in commodities ended. As a result of this, the country slipped into an economic crisis and entered recession in 2014.

Among Latin America’s poorest countries, its oil-dependent economy had grown significantly during the boom, and massive investments in social spending during that time by President Hugo Chávez – Nicolás Maduro’s predecessor and mentor– ensured the popularity of the “chavistas”, as the socialists are called.

After the economic collapse, the crime rate in the country doubled and inflation multiplied in a situation that was made worse by Western sanctions.

For instance, Maduro has blamed the US sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company and government for the economic problems that the country is currently riddled with, which include hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages and electricity blackouts. Maduro has also accused the US of trying to rule the country from afar.

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Meanwhile, in order to increase pressure on Maduro officials, the US government also coordinates diplomatic efforts in support of Juan Guaidó–the opposition leader–some of which include visa revocations and targeted sanctions.

In December 2020, Maduro consolidated his grip on power, with candidates favouring his rule declared to have won the National Assembly –– the only bastion that had so far remained out of his Socialist Party’s control.

Western nations, however, have already discredited the election as a fraud by Maduro, and continue to recognise Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader.

According to UN estimates, over 90 per cent of the country was living in poverty in April 2019 and an estimated 4.8 million Venezuelans have fled the country for other places in Latin America and for the Caribbean countries as of February 2020.

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