When I moved to Medellin, Colombia in 2015, I did not know that I would share my new city with thousands of Venezuelan refugees. With the Venezuelan economy in ruins and a healthcare system that has collapsed, millions of families have ventured across the border from Venezuela into uncertainty. Colombia shares part of its 2,219 kilometer-long border with Venezuela, thus, Colombia has become home to one-third of the 4.5 million who have fled their home country, leaving behind families and friends just to escape the political and economic crisis that has devastated their country and its people.
While wealthier Venezuelans left for countries like Spain or the United States, many more have had no other choice than to leave their country for less-troubled nations nearby in hopes to survive.
On one hand, Colombia welcomed Venezuelans with open arms, a country that also had suffered years of war and displacement. Yet thousands of Venezuelans face discrimination and lack the employment and educational opportunities they had hoped for here. So, how does this mass-Venezuelan migration, which is one of the most significant migration crises in Latin America, impact the day-to-day life in Medellin, Colombia? People may wonder; does this influence the day-to-day safety of city living in Medellin?
1. Increased competition for Venezuelans and Colombians in the informal job sector
With more and more people working informally (e.g. selling candies on the street, performing at stoplights), they are also in direct competition with local Colombians who also have no access to formal work. While I cannot give my money to everyone I see on the streets, I support those I can with spare change or food.
2. Safety concerns surrounding the exodus of Venezuelans
Because of political unrest, food scarcity, and violence, I do not recommend traveling to Colombia’s otherwise beautiful neighbor Venezuela for the foreseeable future. With the influx of people spilling into Colombia, many are concerned about safety. The presence of more Venezuelans has not affected the safety in Medellin, but heavily militarized border towns such as Cucuta experience more rampant crime figures. The rural, informal crossings that span through dense jungles and the Andes mountains are also home to corrupt officials who are trading goods for entrance into Colombia. My suggestion? Avoid these areas of Colombia for travel and practice day-to-day precautions for staying safe.
3. Beggars on the streets of Medellin
While the government has been trying to legalize Venezuelan refugees and their families, granting them permission to work and access to healthcare, social services, and education is unsustainable because of the sheer number of refugees entering the country.
As a result, more and more families turn to beg, relying on the goodwill of others to get by. Many ride busses and hand out Venezuelan currency, which is so inflated, it doesn’t have any value. Some sell candies on the streets or juggle at stoplights. While there are more people asking for money, it hasn’t seemed to cause any safety concerns in and around Medellin. All-in-all, Colombia appears to be trying to help its neighbors as best they can.
Whether you have been following the Venezuelan refugee crisis or are reading about it for the first time, it is important to gain an understanding of the social and political issues during the pre-pat process. What current issues are you following in your country?
by: Erin Colton-Enberg