Venezuelan migration is currently the most massive migration flow globally; the second largest in the Syrian diaspora. Since 2016, Venezuelans have migrated in massive numbers to other countries, especially Colombia. Some of the causes of Venezuelan migration are lack of employment, poverty, and the Venezuelan economic crisis, which is due to Venezuela’s single resource-dependent economy. However, recently, an additional problem has been provoking internal displacement and more migration towards Colombia: an internal conflict between the Venezuelan army and FARC dissidents.
To understand the recent confrontations it is necessary to study which actors are involved. In 2016 the Colombian government and the armed group FARC signed a peace agreement that promised a change in the more than 60-year-old war in Colombia. Unfortunately, not all FARC members agreed with the accord, and some of them decided to create dissident groups. To avoid persecution, some of them moved to Venezuela, where the defense minister Padrino Lopez implicitly permitted the presence of or at least did not persecute, the dissidents and members of the National Liberation Army (ELN).
Nonetheless, the implicit alliance between FARC dissidents and the Venezuelan army has changed. There have been clashes between the dissident armed groups and the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (the Venezuelan military). On March 23, the attacks caused two Venezuelan soldiers’ deaths, and on March 29, another confrontation between FARC and the army left nine people severely wounded. To date, by April 20, around 17 Venezuelans have died in the confrontations at the border.
The dissidents claim to be defending Venezuelan communities from a government that supposedly oppresses them. The guerrillas published a letter saying, “the Venezuelan Armed Forces have carried out kidnappings and demanded payments for the release of civilians (extortion), they have also committed looting and criminal acts, camouflaged as military actions and achievements in combat”. These statements have been denied by Venezuelan authorities that, on the other hand, argue that the Colombian government is supporting guerrillas.
The two governments mistrust each other; there are no communication channels and there is a lack of coordinated strategies to face the presence of illegal armed groups at the border. This tension between the neighboring countries only benefits narcotraffic, illegal armed groups, and border clashes. Beyond the diplomatic discrepancies, this is a problem that affects citizens on both sides of the border. Therefore, the two countries should work together to respond effectively and protect people from the increasing violence. They do not need to be close allies but there should be at least a constant communication channel between the local authorities.
Another big obstacle in this scenario is the lack of clarity regarding the actors affecting the area. Colombian authorities claim that two different FARC dissident groups are present in the neighboring country, “Gentil Duarte” and “Segunda Marquetalia”, but non-governmental organizations have identified the presence of “Colombian paramilitary remnants and upstart gangs prowling indigenous territories, Venezuelan para-police, and Mexican drug cartels complete the shifting patchwork of armed outfits”. While the governments remain silent and without a clear response, the violent panorama continues to affect civilians, specifically in the Arauca region in Colombia and Apure in Venezuela.
Without clear support from the government, due to the increasing confrontations in March, more than 5000 Venezuelans have decided to migrate towards the Colombian region of Arauca. Nonetheless, the aid response has been slow and ineffective from the origin, transit, and destination countries. Many Venezuelans face different obstacles not only when they migrate, but also when they arrive at their destination. They struggle to find regular jobs, and it is common to see mendicity in many cities of Colombia and Latin America.
This migration has been happening for over five years; despite this, the response has been targeting humanitarian needs rather than tackling the structural causes that keep causing internal displacement and migration. The truth is that they have faced a systematic violation of rights that put them in a unique position where they should be protected by international law, such as the Cartagena Convention. On the contrary, Venezuelans are often not given refugee status; instead, they are sometimes considered economic migrants. In 2019 only 36,000 Venezuelans were granted refugee status. Almost 800,000 were waiting to have their asylum applications processed and more than 3 million decided not to apply for refugee status.
Recently, there has been progressing in Colombian migration norms, and the government published legislation that promised to regulate the status of migrants and refugees in the country for ten years. The regular status will allow them access to better jobs, education, and other services. Nonetheless, to access these rights, migrants must present evidence of crossing the country before January 31 of 2021. As a result, the recent migration due to conflict is excluded by this legislation. Until now, there is no certainty regarding how to help the recent migrants.
It is unsure how things will develop at the border, but it seems the government’s refusal to talk with each other will only cause tensions to increase. Recently, “Venezuela has deployed more than 90 troops in Apure state and recently announced the dispatch of 1,000 militiamen. For its part, Bogota mobilized 2,000 new troops from its military forces and 90 marines to the department of Arauca”. The violence at the border has been handled poorly, as consequence, both Colombian and Venezuelan civilians will keep suffering from the clashes and migration will continue to increase in the next several months.