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  March 2021  
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Colombians welcome Pope’s praise of efforts to protect Venezuelan migrants
Mission of Charity outpost at Colombia's border with Venezuela
16 February 2021. The Bishops of Colombia welcome Pope Francis’ recent appeal for Venezuelan migrants, as well as the government’s decision to provide protection for the 1.7 million of them in the country.

By Devin Watkins

Colombian President Iván Duque announced early last week that the government would provide temporary legal status to over 1.7 million Venezuelan immigrants.

The “Temporary Protection Statute” will allow Venezuelans who arrived before 31 January to stay and work legally for at least 10 years, as well as integrate into Colombian society.

Papal appreciation

International praise has poured in for the move, with Pope Francis expressing his personal gratitude to Colombia on Sunday.

“Thank you, Colombia,” said the Pope at the Angelus address. “I thank all of you for what you do for migrants.”

He added the statute would foster “welcoming, protecting, and integrating” of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia.

The head of the UN Refugee Agency, Filippo Grandi, hailed the decision as “the most important humanitarian gesture” the region has seen in decades.

Encouragement for Colombians

Following the Pope’s Sunday appeal, the Archbishop of Bogota in Colombia welcomed his words of support, in an interview with Vatican Radio’s Fr. Manuel Cubias, SJ.

“The Bishops of Colombia and the entire people of God welcomed the Holy Father’s message with great joy,” said Archbishop Luis Jose Rueda Aparicio. “It encourages and strengthens us in our efforts on behalf of migrants.”

The Archbishop said Pope Francis’ appeal was well received in local public opinion. “It is a clear recognition of the efforts which Colombia has made despite the situation caused by the pandemic, as poverty is on the rise and many difficulties brought on by the armed conflict which is still ongoing.”

Fleeing Venezuela

Neighboring Venezuela has faced a deepening crisis since 2014, which has resulted in an intractable economic and political crisis.

Inflation has skyrocketed, with food, petrol, and medicine prices nearly out of reach for most Venezuelans. As the socialist regime has grown increasingly repressive, over 5.4 million people have fled the nation, nearly 2 million of whom have settled in Colombia.

The “Temporary Protection Statute” will allow those who register with the government to stay for 10 years, despite their previous legal status.

Chance to start over

Archbishop Rueda praised the move and the opportunities it offers Venezuelan immigrants.

“The law responds to an important need and allows migrants to contribute positively to Colombian society, in areas ranging from work to cultural enrichment.”

Many Venezuelan migrants, he added, have long hoped for the chance to “restart their lives in Colombia.”

The Archbishop of Bogota said the Church is called to continue its efforts on behalf of migrants “to avoid any form of discrimination or xenophobia.”

“We must keep working to promote solidarity and fraternity among our people,” he said, “as a gesture of accompanying the people of Venezuela and helping meet their needs.”