Protests in Colombia have been ongoing for more than two weeks now as calls for the reform or the replacement of President Iván Duque’s right-winged government grow significantly louder each day.
This civil unrest first started on November 21st and has been causing a greater amount of risk to the safety of Venezuelan migrants, who have fled an unstable government in their home country and now face increased racism and xenophobia. As looting, ransacking and rioting occur in the capital of Bogota, Venezuelan migrants are increasingly being blamed for these activities.
On November 24th, El Espectador and Reuters reported that 59 Venezuelans had been deported back to Venezuela due to being “involved in vandalism.” However, as El Pais has conveyed, this has only been part of a dangerous narrative repeated by the Colombian government and some of its citizens “accusing foreigners of agitating the protests”, without evidence to support these statements.
Colombian Magistrate Carlos Vilma has declared that “Venezuelans are being used as scapegoats,” to divert attention away from the protesters and their calls for reform. This is now affecting how Venezuelan migrants are seen by the general public and many are feeling the effects of the increased xenophobia firsthand. Al Jazeera has shared the testimony of Daniels Herrera, a Venezuelan migrant who has stated that he has been afraid to speak since the start of the protest for fear of persecution due to his native accent. This sentiment is shared by many others who feel the same way.
This false narrative is highly dangerous and unjust. It is highly alarming that a government would use such labels against a defenseless minority group which it has the responsibly to protect. These utterances can lead to senseless violence and is being used by President Duque’s government to distract the Colombian people away from the protests. Unmoved by these tactics, most Colombians continue to protest for reform.
However, there are some who are listening to the spread of racism and believe that Venezuelans are creating the violence. This is quite disheartening, as in the past Venezuela had allowed Colombians to peacefully seek refuge during the more than 50-year-long Colombian civil war which ended in 2016. Hopefully this fact will not become lost on the citizens of Colombia.
Recently, Venezuela has experienced a mass exodus of its citizens as the current administration run by President Nicolás Maduro continues to suppress its citizens and fail to fix its collapsed economy. The number of those fleeing has reached over 4 million with 1.5 million currently seeking refuge in Colombia. Thus, with the highest amount of refugees currently living in Colombia, it is crucial that these protests do not lead to a sustained increase in the persecution, discrimination and deportation of Venezuelans.
The protests in Colombia have been started due to a current heavy dissatisfaction from the public. This is due to the manner in which President Duque has handled the peace treaty signed in 2016 with the left-wing guerrilla group FARC and how he has continually allowed the mistreatment of minority groups. For the Venezuelans it is positive to know that these protests are fighting for the rights of minority groups and for the Government to stop its mistreatment of the public. Looking into the future, if the protests are successful there will likely be a better treatment of Venezuelans by Colombians. However in the short term these migrants will likely face increased amounts of xenophobia and violence within Colombia.