Not everyone is welcoming refugees these days, particularly in the Americas. That’s why it was encouraging to read about Colombia’s generous treatment of the millions of refugees pouring across the border from Venezuela.
It seems the Bolivarian Revolution has turned into the Bolivarian Exodus. According to the United Nations, almost five million Venezuelans have fled the country’s hyperinflation, food and medical shortages, severe crime and authoritarian government. Almost two million are currently living in Colombia, only half with legal status.
It was, therefore, with great relief to the roughly one million undocumented Venezuelans when last week Colombia granted them legal status, allowing them to work legally and access health and education services. The action was described by Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency, as “an example to the region and the rest of the world.”
Colombian President Iván Duque echoed Grandi’s words, saying “As we take this historic and transcendental step for Latin America, we hope other countries will follow our example.”
The conservative Duque is no fan of the Marxist-leaning government in neighbouring Venezuela, so we might expect a political as well as an altruistic motive explains his generosity. In any case, he is getting the job done. His government has staunchly supported the Venezuelan refugees at the UN and has provided aid, schooling and health care for many. He has also strongly criticized other South American countries for closing their doors.
The refugees are understandably delighted. According to Dayana Mendoza, a Venezuelan who runs Mujeres de Nueva Luz, a foundation that helps new arrivals find their feet in Colombia, “This wasn’t something I was expecting, but it is among the best things that we could have hoped for.”
Many more Venezuelans may need the generosity shown by Colombia. The populist revolution of Chavez and Maduro has plunged the nominally rich Venezuela into utter dysfunction, and the exodus can be expected to continue. As Colombian President Duque says, “If we want to stop this crisis, countries have to reflect about how to end the dictatorship in Venezuela.”