PARTNER-ATLAS

COLOMBIA

as a partner for regulating global migration flows

01 — The key questions for the Partner-Atlas

RELEVANCE: What relevance does Colombia have for Germany with regards to "regulating global migration flows"?

According to official data from the Colombian migration authorities, approximately 1.8 million of the more than 4 million Venezuelan migrants are currently in Colombia. According to estimates by the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the flow of migrants could increase to 3 million by the end of 2021, not including “transit migrants” or commuters.

The fact that Colombia is the preferred destination for Venezuelan refugees can be explained by its linguistic and cultural proximity and by the fact that many families have relatives on both sides of the border. While these aspects facilitate integration, they do not reduce the economic challenges for the host country’s institutions. Moreover, large numbers of migrants are suffering extreme economic, social, physical and psychological hardship.

The Colombian-Venezuelan border, which is more than 2,000 kilometres long, has only seven official border crossings and, for long stretches, runs through rough terrain, which makes it practically impossible to control entry and exit and (legal and illegal) trade. A large proportion of migrants enter the country via the numerous illegal border crossings, which are usually controlled by criminal groups, making registration and providing immediate care (food, medical examination and treatment) difficult. Authorities currently assume that there are more than 900,000 illegal migrants in Colombia. Since May 2021, all Venezuelans living in Colombia legally or illegally have been eligible to register with the migration authorities in order to legalise their status under a new temporary residence status. This initiative is an important message by the Colombian government, opening up prospects for migrants for staying in the country permanently and supporting their integration into society and the labour market.

The Colombian government is aware of the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and is trying, in a spirit of generous, neighbourly solidarity, to receive and care for migrants as best it can. At the same time, with international support, tremendous pressure is being exerted on the Venezuelan government, because if there is no change in the situation there, migration to Colombia will increase. The future stability of Colombia and the region essentially depends on whether migration flows can be regulated efficiently and distributed more evenly.

WILLINGNESS: To what extent is Colombia willing to work with Germany in realising this interest?

The German government has provided important support for managing the migration crisis from the very beginning. Germany’s experience with the wave of migration from Syria in 2015 was closely observed in Colombia, because Colombia had been more a country of emigration than of immigration before the Venezuelan crisis, and had therefore had little experience with the phenomenon of massive immigration. There is thus considerable interest in a dialogue with Germany regarding successful measures and avoidable mistakes with respect to managing migration.

The Colombian government, for example, has adopted the German system for the identification and registration of migrants.

Colombia is committed to introducing this system regionally as part of the “Quito Process”. Also, the country could pick some ideas from the German model for the distribution of migrants across regions and federal states (depending on economic capacity and population structure) . Colombia is anxious to achieve a more even distribution of migrants in the region. The fact that the proposal only received a lukewarm response from countries that are not directly or equally affected by migration shows some parallels to the European migration debate.

At the international level, Colombia, like Germany, has actively participated in initiatives such as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration at UN level, and in the Solidarity Conference held last year in Brussels at the initiative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the EU. Colombia and Germany, as important host countries for migrants and refugees, are strong supporters of the Migration and Refugee Compact. Germany has a special role here, as it is the only country in the world to be both one of the ten host countries taking in most refugees and, at the same time, one of the biggest contributors to the UNHCR.

STATUS QUO: How close is Germany and Colombia's current cooperation in this area?

There is currently intense cooperation between Colombia and Germany on migration. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is providing support and advice on introducing the system for identifying and registering migrants (especially in border areas). The Federal Foreign Office (AA) is heavily involved in the area of humanitarian aid. Germany also provides substantial funding to the UN and EU migration programmes in Colombia.

The German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), for example, is implementing projects to develop the local economy, in which migration is to be used for the country’s development, for example by promoting business start-ups and other productive initiatives, launched by migrants in Colombia. Support has also been given to communities that host migrants, especially in the Venezuelan-Colombian border area.

Political foundations are engaged in providing analysis, education and policy consultation by training government representatives, members of parliament and political decision-makers and raising their awareness of relevant issues. A particular focus is policy consultation with respect to the ongoing debate on a Colombian immigration law.

Church organisations also play an important role in supporting migrants (especially for emergency aid). Caritas Germany, for example, cooperates with local religious organisations to help provide care for migrants and Colombian returnees from Venezuela.

POTENTIAL: What is the potential for strengthening the partnership between Germany and Colombia in this area?

Unless the political, economic and social situation in Venezuela decisively improves, it can be assumed that by the end of 2021 approximately 6.5 million people will have left the country, of whom about 3 million will remain in Colombia. It is currently impossible to predict what effects the Covid crisis will have on the development of migration numbers. That is why the potential and the need for cooperation remain substantial.

POLICY RECOMMENDATION: What in German foreign policy has to change in order to fully exploit this potential?

Germany should become even more involved at the multilateral level in order to maintain international pressure on the Maduro regime and thus contribute to a peaceful transition in the medium term. Redemocratisation, combined with international aid for reconstruction of the country, would alleviate migration pressure and open up the prospect of a return to their home countries for many emigrants. Germany should be proactively engaged in this process.

A migration movement of this magnitude must be accompanied by longer-term planning, that is primarily focused on the implementation of appropriate medium and long-term public policies (such as in healthcare and education), apart from taking necessary emergency action. It is especially important to provide advice and support to regional and local governments and administrations, because these have suffered most from the economic impact and they have shown a keen interest in suitable training programs. Germany can offer such advice based on its own experience and thereby contribute to strengthening the responsible Colombian institutions, to decentralising the provision of care for migrants and to regional development.

Given that both Colombia and Germany will continue to be immigration countries in the foreseeable future, there is a considerable congruence of interests for pulling together on a multilateral level. Apart from specific support measures on the ground, German foreign policy should emphasise the value of including Colombia as a strategic interest partner in the global migration debate, so that the Global Migration Compact and the Global Refugee Compact, which both countries support, can now be gradually implemented following their adoption in December 2018.

Stefan Reith heads the KAS Office in Colombia.

Last update: July 27th, 2021

COLOMBIA

  • Population: 50,882,891
  • Capital: Bogota
  • Interest: Regulating Global Migration Flows
  • Region: Latin America
  • Potential partner countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Mexico, Panama

04 — The region

Latin America

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PERU

Peru is an exception in Latin America in terms of its enormous wealth of resources and biodiversity. The country has three large landscape zones: the coast, most of which is covered by desert, the Andes and the jungle region. According to the World Resource Institute, Peru is one of only eight megadiverse countries in the world, possessing 84 of the 104 existing life zones. 76 percent of the country is occupied by rainforest, which means that the country has the largest share of the Amazon rainforest after Brazil.

  • Population: 32,971,854
  • Capital: Lima
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MEXICO

In connection with organised crime, drug trafficking, and the penetration of the state by criminal groups, Mexico – a regional leader and member of the G20 – is facing major challenges that affect both internal and regional security. In view of the cross-border effects of organised crime in Mexico, which extend far beyond the American continent, migration from Central America and other regions of the world through Mexico towards the USA, the significant economic potential as a production location with a well-qualified workforce and privileged access to the US market via the North American Free-Trade Area, Mexico is of great importance for the stability of the region.

  • Population: 128,932,753
  • Capital: Mexico City
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COLOMBIA

According to official data from the Colombian migration authorities, approximately 1.8 million of the more than 4 million Venezuelan migrants are currently in Colombia. According to estimates by the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the flow of migrants could increase to 3 million by the end of 2020, not including “transit migrants” or commuters.

  • Population: 50,882,891
  • Capital: Bogota
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URUGUAY

In comparison to other Latin American countries and despite its modest size, Uruguay serves as a model with its impressive political and socio-economic status. In a region that is not always stable, the country can look back on a long democratic-republican tradition with functioning institutions and a diverse media landscape.

  • Population: 3,473,730
  • Capital: Montevideo
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BRAZIL

Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America and, with a GDP of approximately 2 trillion US dollars is one of the most important emerging markets in the world. The country has a domestic market of 210 million inhabitants and is rich in natural resources.

  • Population: 212,559,417
  • Capital: Brasilia
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