For more than two decades, UNHCR has worked closely with national and local authorities and civil society in Colombia to mobilize protection and advance solutions for people who have been forcibly displaced. UNHCR’s initial focus on internal displacement has expanded in the last few years to include Venezuelans and Colombians coming from Venezuela. Within an interagency platform, UNHCR supports efforts by the Government of Colombia to manage large-scale mixed movements with a protection orientation in the current COVID-19 pandemic and is equally active in preventing statelessness.
A peace agreement was signed by the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP in 2016, signaling a potential end to Colombia’s 50-year armed conflict. Armed groups nevertheless remain active in parts of the country, committing violence and human rights violations. Communities are uprooted and, in the other extreme, confined or forced to comply with mobility restrictions. The National Registry of Victims (RUV in Spanish) registered 54,867 displacements in the first eleven months of 2020. Meanwhile, confinements in the departments of Norte de Santander, Chocó, Nariño, Arauca, Antioquia, Cauca and Valle del Cauca affected 61,450 people in 2020, as per UNHCR reports. The main protection risks generated by the persistent presence of armed groups and illicit economies include forced recruitment of children by armed groups and genderbased violence – the latter affecting in particular girls, women and LGBTI persons. Some 2,532 cases of GBV against Venezuelan women and girls were registered by the Ministry of Health between 1 January and September 2020, a 41.5% increase compared to the same period in 2019.
Alongside a continuing conflict, Colombia is the country most impacted by the large-scale mixed movement of over 5.5 million Venezuelans, the second largest forced displacement crisis globally and the largest ever in Latin America. It has also been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic (over 1.3 million confirmed cases and more than 36,000 deaths as of late November, one of the ten countries most adversely affected by the pandemic worldwide). By late 2020, there were over 1.7 million Venezuelans in Colombia. Some 120,000 Venezuelans returned home in 2020 after losing income and in some cases facing evictions as a result of the pandemic, but with the easing of lockdowns, many have started to return to Colombia. Migración Colombia estimates 80% of those who returned home during the pandemic will re-enter Colombia in the coming months, accompanied by two or more people. Hundreds are already entering daily via informal border points despite the official border closure.
While Colombia’s asylum system has offered protection to a small but growing number of Venezuelans, many Venezuelans seek to regularize their stay through the Special Stay Permit (PEP), which enables access to legal employment. The PEP currently allows over 708,000 Venezuelans to reside legally in Colombia for up to two years with access to basic services and the labour market. Despite this high number, some 56% Venezuelans in Colombia find themselves in an irregular situation and thus more vulnerable to protection risks.