Venezuelan migrants welcome full reopening of border with Colombia

By Jorge Gil Angel

Bogota/Caracas, Sep 22 (EFE) – The full reopening of the border with Colombia is welcome news for the nearly 2.5 million Venezuelan migrants now living in that neighboring country, many of whom have been granted temporary protective status and now will be better able to maintain ties with their homeland.

Even so, the migration dynamics are no longer the same as they were prior to the pandemic, and new challenges await with the scheduled Sept. 26 resumption of cargo transport over frontier bridges.

One of them is to guarantee migrants’ safety and human rights in a border region plagued with security problems.

Coordinated actions also must be taken to reduce the number of United States-bound Venezuelan migrants making the perilous northward journey through the inhospitable Darien Gap separating Panama and Colombia.

Leftist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of legal crossing points in 2015, justifying the move as necessary to combat Colombian criminal gangs, although crossings were reopened to pedestrians a year later.

Foot traffic was suspended once again, however, after Maduro severed diplomatic relations on Feb. 23, 2019.

That move came in retaliation for Colombia’s backing of opposition leader Juan Guaido, who had proclaimed himself Venezuela’s legitimate leader and was seeking to cross the border from the Colombian border city of Cucuta at the head of an aid caravan.

Spurred by Venezuela’s long-standing economic crisis, people still continued to cross the border via illegal crossings known as “trochas,” although foot traffic was normalized once again last year over the Simon Bolivar International Bridge.

The restoration of full diplomatic relations following the rise to power of Colombian leftist Gustavo Petro is particularly welcomed by inhabitants of border cities, who regularly move between the two countries and had been forced to adapt to the ban on vehicular traffic.

One of those individuals is Eduardo Casanova, who told Efe he regularly moves between Cucuta, capital of the northeastern Colombian department of Norte de Santander, and Rubio, a city in the western Venezuelan state of Tachira.

“We hope it’ll become a reality. We’ve waited so long that we’ll wait that little bit more,” said Casanova, who currently must cross the border on foot to the border town of San Antonio del Tachira and then look for transportation to Rubio, a Venezuelan city 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) away.

According to June figures from Migracion Colombia, that Andean nation’s border control agency, nearly 2.5 million Venezuelans are currently living in the country.

Of that total, roughly 1 million either arrived legally or have already obtained authorization to remain in the country, while more than 1.2 million are in the process of obtaining temporary protective status that will allow them to obtain a driver’s license, work and use the banking system.

Fewer than 300,000 are currently in the country illegally, according to that June report.

Donna Cabrera, an immigration specialist at Bogota’s Pontifical Xavierian University, recalled that Petro said he will maintain conservative predecessor Ivan Duque’s migrant-integration policies and will further facilitate some processes that ease access to the workplace, including the validation of university degrees.

She also said Colombia and Venezuela need to work together to tackle the problem of migrant crossings through the Darien Gap, a treacherous 95-kilometer (60-mile) stretch of dense jungle whose dangers include a powerful Colombian criminal gang known as the Clan del Golfo, turbulent rivers, rugged hills and deadly wild animals.

In the first eight months of 2022, 102,067 people made that crossing in hopes of reaching the US, 68,575 of whom (around 67 percent) were Venezuelan, according to Colombia’s National Ombud’s Office. EFE


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