Colombia on Monday launched a project to provide “temporary protection status” to nearly a million undocumented migrants who have fled to its territory from economically-devastated Venezuela.
President Ivan Duque signed a decree that would see the newcomers registered and given permission to reside and travel within Colombia during a ten-year period in which they can acquire a residence visa.
Of the 1.7 million Venezuelans living in neighboring Colombia, nearly 900,000 were undocumented, Duque told reporters in Bogota.
“Today our country is appealing to solidarity… Knowing that we are not a rich country does not limit our neighborliness or our recognition of pain,” the president said.
The process would start with the mandatory registration of migrants in a database “for the formulation and design of public policies,” the presidency explained.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, described the move as “historic.”
“It is an extraordinary display of humanity, commitment to human rights and pragmatism,” he said in a video shown at the signing ceremony.
Antonio Vitorino, director of the International Organization for Migration, said the measure would “reduce the vulnerabilities of refugees and migrants” in Colombia.
Colombia is one of several countries worldwide who do not recognize Nicolas Maduro as the president of Venezuela, but rather opposition leader Juan Guaido. The neighbors do not have diplomatic ties.
According to UN figures, there are some 5.4 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees in the world, fewer than half of them with identity documents.
Duque came under fire in December for announcing undocumented Venezuelans would not be included in Colombia’s coronavirus vaccination campaign.
He later revised that position and asked for international help after criticizing what he called a “meager” response to Latin America’s migration crisis.
Oil-rich Venezuela is mired in the worst economic crisis of its modern history and struggling through its seventh straight year of recession. Inflation in 2019 was over 9,000 percent.
Venezuelans endure acute shortages of food and medicine and even such basics as soap and toilet paper.