Colombia has said it will grant citizenship to more than 24,000 children born in the country to parents from crisis-hit Venezuela since 2015, as well as to those who will be born over the next two years, in a move aimed at preventing them from being stateless.
These children have been stuck in legal limbo with no identity documents or proof of citizenship in any country.
There are few Venezuelan consulates abroad and travel home is often difficult and dangerous, leaving migrant parents, including many who left without a passport, with no way to register their newborns for documentation.
“Today, we are supporting these defenceless children who want to have the right to have a nationality, and we proudly tell them that they are Colombians,” Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Monday.
“Colombia has shown the world that the way of xenophobia is the wrong way,” he told journalists.
‘Crisis won’t be resolved soon’
Venezuela is mired in one of the worst economic crises in its history, with a quarter of its 30 million population in need of aid, according to the United Nations.
More than 3.2 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2016, fleeing hyperinflation and widespread shortages of basic goods. Neighbouring Colombia has taken in the largest number: 1.3 million.
Caracas broke off diplomatic relations with Bogota in February over Duque’s support for opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself acting president in January. Guaido’s move was a direct challenge to President Nicolas Maduro‘s authority, sparking a power struggle that has ground to an impasse.
Maduro said Guaido and the United States tried to stage a coup against him, while also accusing Washington of waging an economic war against his government.
Rafael Pineros, a professor of international affairs at Universidad Externado de Colombia in Bogota, said the Colombian president’s move was an attempt to show that his government was part of the solution in the crisis.
“Duque wants to make clear that [the Venezuelan crisis] won’t be resolved any time soon, and that despite having shown a strong position against the government of Nicolas Maduro, he is respectful towards the plight of the Venezuelan people,” he told Al Jazeera.
“He wants to show that his government has the same solidarity Venezuela had with Colombia in the past.”
Plea for aid
Duque’s order, which will be valid for two more years, allows children born to Venezuelan parents in Colombia from August 19, 2015, to be given citizenship. This means children up to almost four years of age can start accessing Colombia’s education and health system.
The UN office in Colombia called the government’s move on Monday “a milestone in the prevention of statelessness on the world level” and “a very important step” in guaranteeing “the complete protection” of the children of Venezuelan parents.
Bogota, however, has called for more international aid, saying it may soon no longer be able to cope with the influx of Venezuelans.
“The international community must not remain indifferent in the face of the ravages [caused by] the Venezuelan dictatorship,” Duque said.
Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said on Monday Colombia had received $950,000 from UN agencies.