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Colombia is to grant temporary legal status to Venezuelan migrants

President Iván Duque of Colombia announced on Monday during a visit by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, that his government will provide temporary legal status to the more than 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants who have fled to Colombia in recent years, a far-reaching move that will allow the migrants to work legally and establish lives out of the shadows. Venezuelans who arrived in Colombia before January 31 will be allowed to remain in the country for a decade under the new rules. Migrants who are in the country illegally will be eligible for 10-year residence permits, while migrants who are currently on temporary residence will be able to extend their stay.

“Every day the needs of Venezuelans in Colombia are growing, exacerbated by the effects of the [coronavirus] pandemic,” said Marianne Menjivar, the International Rescue Committee’s Colombia and Venezuela director.

Colombia’s government estimates that 1.8 million Venezuelans currently live in the country, having fled economic and political crises in their homeland and that 55 per cent of them don’t have proper residence papers.

“We’ve published the decision of our country to create a temporary protected status in Colombia that allows us to normalize these migrants in our country,” Duque said, speaking in Bogota alongside Grandi.

The United Nations estimates approximately 5.4 million Venezuelans have fled their country amid a crippling economic crisis, as well as threats of violence, political instability and a lack of basic goods and services.

More than 1.7 million Venezuelans now live in neighbouring Colombia, and of that, some 966,000 do not have legal status in the country, according to Colombia’s migration authority. Most arrive pennilessly, and informally – through makeshift border crossings and without the necessary paperwork or migration stamp to gain access to formal employment or healthcare.

The decision was hailed by the head of the U.N. Refugee Agency, Filippo Grandi, as “historic” and “the most important humanitarian gesture” in the region in decades.

By Karishma Gwalani

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