Colombia: Population Movement (MDRCO014) Twelve-month Update


Description of the disaster

In recent years, the number of people migrating from Venezuela to neighbouring countries and other locations around the globe has increased. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that over 3.7 million Venezuelans have migrated, with 2.7 million of these since 20151 . As of March 2019, 1.2 million migrants were estimated to be in Colombia2 . This number is expected to escalate to somewhere between 1.7 and 2.3 million by the end of 20193 .

Approximately 770,000 Venezuelan migrants have regular status in the country4 . Colombia is the number one receptor of Venezuelan migrants in the region.

In Colombia, the number of Venezuelan migrants has escalated exponentially from 10,000 migrants in 2015; 39,000 in 2016; 180,000 in 2017; and 1.2 million in 20185 . This represents an 11,900 per cent increase in three years and figures for 2019 are expected to be higher. The Colombian people and its government have shown extraordinary hospitality and solidarity, but the impact of this enormous inflow of people on the country’s services, economy and host communities has been immense. The country’s infrastructure and financial capacities are overstretched, and social tensions have been reported. In November 2018, the World Bank estimated that the cost of additional public services caused by migration lies between 0.23 per cent and 0.41 per cent of Colombia’s GDP6 .

The migration phenomenon should be considered in the context of the existing humanitarian situation in Colombia, including internal displacement. OCHA estimates that in 2019 there will be 7 million people in need in Colombia, including 1.9 million migrants and 5.1 million people affected by the humanitarian situation due to natural disasters or armed conflict. There are 96 municipalities (9 per cent of all municipalities in Colombia) where the population is affected simultaneously by armed conflict, natural disasters and migration7 . In terms of global migration, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was approved by 164 states and adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2018; it provides non-binding yet internationally negotiated guidance to address challenges posed by migration and enhance coordination with regard to migration.

At the start of 2019, donations from governments started being stocked in Cucuta. The Venezuelan opposition announced that these would enter the country from Colombia on 23 February 2019. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Colombia issued a statement on 4 February 2019 clarifying that it would not be involved in the delivery of aid from Colombia to Venezuela, in compliance with its humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. A musical event, the Venezuela Aid Live concert, was organized in Cucuta on the Colombian border with Venezuela on 22 February 2019. The CRCS opened Emergency Operations Centres in Bogota and border cities, and the CRCS, IFRC and ICRC deployed staff to the field in order to monitor the situation and respond to emerging needs. On 23 February 2019, with the presence of the presidents of Colombia, Chile and Paraguay, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States and Venezuelan opposition leader Mr Guaidó, eight trucks said to contain aid attempted to cross the border into Venezuela from Colombia. These vehicles were unable to enter Venezuela territory, escalating the tensions between both countries, with Venezuela declaring the cessation of diplomatic relations with Colombia and the closure of the border. The Lima Group8 made a public statement in support of a peaceful and democratic regime transition.

The political instability has generated immediate effects on pendular migrants, estimated at 3,000 a day. Migracion Colombia reports that between January and March 2019, 1,720,715 persons entered Colombia from Venezuela using the Border Mobility Card, and 1,573,689 exited Colombia to Venezuela using the same permit (see further below). These migrants enter Colombian territory to purchase consumer goods or obtain medical services. According to reports gathered by the Interagency Group on Mixed Migration Flows (GIFMM), border closures do not halt overall migration flows, but rather increase the risk and the costs for migrants, because armed groups controlling irregular crossings increase the costs of using these points. As the situation of scarcity and structural challenges in Venezuela persists, the numbers of people emigrating continues. In March 2019, several blackouts occurred across Venezuelan territory, with serious consequences for health, food and water consumption and public safety. Local elections in Colombia are planned for October 2019; most political parties in Colombia signed a pact to avoid language, speech or practice that leads to acts of xenophobia during the local electoral campaign process.

In September 2018, the IFRC issued a regional Emergency Appeal for the Americas: Population Movement (MDR42004) that is implementing actions with the National Societies of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Panama, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay. This appeal was revised in November 2018 to seek close to 8 million Swiss francs; the Six-month report for this operation was published in April 2019, and the operation is seeking to publish a revised Emergency Appeal in late May 2019. In April 2019, IFRC launched the Emergency Appeal Venezuela: Health emergency (MDRVE004) for 50 million Swiss francs.