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The immense challenge of organizations that help the Venezuelan diaspora

By Rafael Quintero Cerón, Colombia’s Time, GDA

“Seeing that tide of people passing in front of my house made me not stay still. I lived well in my house in Chía (a town near Bogotá) and feeling the presence of those walkers activated a spark in me. It is impossible to do nothing. We had to act.” This is how the Venezuelan doctor Carmen Aída Farías remembers the origin, in 2018, of Manitas Amarillas. It is a civil organization dedicated to guaranteeing the right to health of migrants and “of those who require it regardless of nationality.”

Today, Manitas Amarillas, thanks to its work in the field, has the financial support of international cooperation organizations such as USAID, the Norwegian Council and the Red Cross, among others, and has managed to gather up to a hundred doctors and volunteers in the brigades of health and food deliveries.

The history of Manitas Amarillas is similar to that of nearly a thousand other organizations that come from citizen initiatives that do work to support migration in different cities of Colombia. They all have a common origin: the union of professionals or people with a humanitarian vocation both from Colombia like Venezuelawho were moved by the desire to help their brothers or compatriots.

The exact number of organizations is uncertain since, explains Txomin Las Heras, president of the Colombian-Venezuelan Dialogue Association and a researcher attached to the Venezuela Observatory of the Rosario University, they change according to the needs or circumstances of the migratory phenomenon.

Venezuelan migrants line up to be registered for migration, on October 14, 2022, in the town of Bajo Chiquito, Panama, after crossing the Darien jungle migrating to the United States. (EFE/ Welcome Velasco/)

“Civil organizations are born and grow according to a specific need, such as immigration assistance or help in the pandemic, for example. but others remain because they change their focus and adapt to the new realities of the diaspora”, adds Las Heras.

But they also have an advantage, according to the voices consulted. They know their population and are in the territory. Therefore, they reach where large organizations have more problems accessing, which makes them strategic allies. “We can go where they can’t,” explains the director of Manitas Amarillas.

“We are entities that have a greater capacity to take advantage of resources, manage them and adapt them to specific needs that are always changing,” adds Juan Carlos Viloria, a doctor and vice president of the Venezuelan association in Barranquilla, who assures that without the existence of social organizations of a civil nature, migration would have overwhelmed all of Latin America.

Networks, a valuable articulator

“Our convening power has all the strength in social networks. It is there where we summon health professionals who want to help and those who need it. It is through this path that we expanded our strength and international cooperation saw us there and they noticed our ability to interfere”, says Aída Farías.

In their concept, social networks, particularly Facebook and Instagram, are essential for these organizations, not only to recruit volunteers and show their work, but also where all migrants come to find solutions and contacts that allow them to access their rights.

And that has been well understood by ‘Venezolanos en Colombia’, an Instagram page that has become a contact link between those who arrive and those who can guide them, in addition to offering job offers and other opportunities.

The journalist behind the page is Ana Karina Gómez, a young Venezuelan who, after going through what she calls “the curse of the green banana”, represented by hunger, unemployment, lack of opportunities and discrimination, decided to dedicate her time to this portal, created by a migrant friend who received her when she arrived in the country.

READ ALSO: Nearly 537,000 Venezuelan migrants have requested asylum and refuge in Peru, according to UNHCR

“We have contact with more than 200 organizations in Colombia. There is a presence in Arauca, in Norte de Santander and in other areas of the country. With them we make articulation of rights. They contact us, and we connect them with those who can help them, it can be to get regularized, or to look for places to eat, assistance and health care, among many other needs, ”he says.

She adds that she, as a migrant, knows that the first thing that is required when arriving in the country is information, knowing where they can go and how they can access their rights. This portal, says Gómez, is a key tool for those who arrive but also for those who want to stay. “We offer them contact with people who give them legal advice so that they can regularize themselves and demand their labor rights without being violated,” she adds.

The strength of social networks in the work of these support organizations is based on three key pillars, according to Viloria: “The first is to inform through these media the institutional offer for migrants, the second is to communicate what we do so that it serves as visibility of our efforts and the third serve as an articulator and reference point with State organizations and local governments in charge of guaranteeing access to rights”.

The Venezuelan diaspora: the Latin American Character of 2022 of the GDA.

The Venezuelan diaspora: the Latin American Character of 2022 of the GDA.

The future and the challenges after the statute

However, in June 2021, with the arrival of the Temporary Protection Statute for Venezuelan Migrants (ETPV), the challenges changed. Now, civil organizations know that they must begin to change their work to begin to help, not only with the diaspora, but with integration.

And since that year, there have been interesting results regarding the regularization of the migrant population in Colombia. According to data from the Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V), 35% of the 7’131,435 Venezuelans who left their country are in Colombia, that is, 2’477,588 people.

Of them, the data says, 1,492,275, that is, 58%, already have in their possession the Temporary Protection Permit, a document that, according to the Statute, which intends to “authorize Venezuelan migrants who meet the requirements, to remain in the national territory under special migratory regularity conditions, and to exercise during its term, any legal activity or occupation in the country”.

The figure, according to Txomin Las Heras, has represented an enormous effort that can become a model to follow in the rest of the continent. However, there are also urgent to-dos that need to be resolved soon.

Colombia, Bucaramanga, February 03, 2019 Volunteers from the Santander sectional Red Cross assist Venezuelan immigrants who are walking from Caracas.  THE TIME/GDA

Colombia, Bucaramanga, February 03, 2019 Volunteers from the Santander sectional Red Cross assist Venezuelan immigrants who are walking from Caracas. TIME/GDA (JAIME MORENO/)

“That number of people with the Permit is a very great achievement. We are already talking about more than a million people who integrated into the country legally and regularly. It is a singular case in the world. But a lot is missing. And there civil society will be key to articulate with local governments and international cooperation tools to reach many more people”, considered Las Heras.

But not only that. There is great concern among migrant organizations, because although there are decrees, norms, and rules from the central government, many times these regulatory updates do not reach base officials, businessmen, or other sectors. And that harms access to rights.

That void, in the words of Juan Viloria, should be the focus of work for civil society organizations. Information, translated into clear and timely pedagogy so that both the person who wants to regularize and the person who must receive the migrant speak the same language: that of the guarantee of rights.

“The great challenge is to close the gaps to access rights. That is achieved with information.

That the official knows in the bank that with the PPT an account can be opened, or that a health affiliation can be made. That the manager understands that with this document he can be linked to employment with all the guarantees and avoid exploitation. When we close those gaps we will have advanced a great step”, considered Viloria.

Gaps and obstacles that bring humanitarian crisis

Other great challenges that must be faced in the immediate future are the increasingly frequent obstacles that many countries place on Venezuelan migrants to enter and certain gaps in current Colombian legislation that generate uncertainty. In fact, plans such as the humanitarian permit program, promoted by the Joe Biden government in the United States, has allowed 14,000 Venezuelan citizens to be approved to enter that country legally, which reduced the passage through illegal roads of a thousand people per day to just 100 per day, according to information published by CNN.

And it is that increasing immigration obstacles and legal requirements, consider the experts consulted, only serve to force migrants to seek illegal routes to the United States that put their lives at high risk.

An example of this is the increasing passage of people, not only Venezuelans, but also Colombians and other Caribbean countries, through places such as the Darién Gap jungle, on the Colombian border with Panama or even through the beaches of San Andrés, in vessels that call in Nicaragua.

According to estimates by the International Organization for Migration, IOM, by the end of 2022, at least 200,000 undocumented travelers will have crossed the dangerous path of Darién, which will represent an increase of 49.5% compared to the 133,726 reported in 2021.

Venezuelan migrants are transferred to a shelter after being found in the Darien jungle in Panama, exposed to drug traffickers and the dangers of that inhospitable place.  (Photo by Luis ACOSTA / AFP) / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY JUAN JOSE RODRIGUEZ

Venezuelan migrants are transferred to a shelter after being found in the Darien jungle in Panama, exposed to drug traffickers and the dangers of that inhospitable place. (Photo by Luis ACOSTA / AFP) / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY JUAN JOSE RODRIGUEZ (LUIS ACOSTA/)

These roads, co-opted by illegal armed actors, represent an enormous risk to the lives of those who migrate. For this reason, Las Heras considers that a great agreement between the expelling countries is necessary to guarantee safe transit for those who decide to leave Latin America.

“It is impossible to avoid that traffic while there are people willing to take those risks. What is at hand for governments is to offer dignified conditions for them to do so without falling into the hands of illegals. It would be good to achieve that regional agreement that allows regulating this migration in the safest way possible, ”he said.

However, Viloria believes that as long as migration obstacles persist in neighboring countries, it will be very difficult for those who migrate not to seek illegal paths. This is also aggravated by the fact that there is currently an irregular population that is entering through the trails between Colombia and Venezuela from January 31, 2021 to date and may not be covered by the PPT. “There is a job for the national government. Establish urgent policies to see how to handle this situation, ”he considered.

In the end, the call of social organizations to governments is not to make the migration problem invisible. “We are concerned that the current government of Colombia made the discourse on migration somewhat invisible in order to prioritize other issues. And we believe that it is urgent that the issue be kept on the agenda, because although great steps have been taken in regularization, the exodus is far from over.”

Source: Elcomercio

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