Help thy neighbour 

Colombia provides healthcare to Venezuelan refugees.

Colombia, with help from the EU and the Spanish government is to spend just shy of USD 16 million providing healthcare to some 700,000 Venezuelan migrants. The spending is to be channelled to areas across the country including Atlántico, La Guajira, Norte de Santander, Bolívar and Arauca, as well as in Bogotá. Most Venezuelan refugees do not hold Colombian citizenship and thus struggle to access national healthcare. Particularly badly affected are women and children, to whom much of the aid is to be targeted.  

The Colombian government, under pressure from Washington, granted citizenship pathways for Venezuelan refugees in the country. However, the border between the two nations remains porous and dangerous and as the economic situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate, migratory flows are likely to remain a serious policy headache for the time being.  

Indeed, those Venezuelan’s most in need of healthcare tend to be located in border regions where infrastructure is poor and security weakly enforced particularly in the border state of Norte de Santander – Farc dissidents and the ELN continue to dispute control over the area. Housing is another important area connected to healthcare, many migrants live in areas with poor sanitation and patchy access to electricity. By ensuring that housing units are fit for purpose, it could limit the spread of disease transmission as families share larger units and begin to enjoy better access to local primary and secondary care health services.  

A presidency official and specialist in immigration issues explained, “Although a number of Venezuelan migrants have permanent residency, many do not. The administration has tried to bring them under a singular umbrella in order to provide healthcare, but it is difficult to do so – different ministries have to be harmonised in practice and applications which can be a real challenge as they require valid identification documents.”

“The administration has tried to bring [Venezuelan migrants] under a singular umbrella in order to provide healthcare, but it is difficult to do so…”

A presidency official and specialist in immigration issues, Colombia

Indeed for migrants, accessing healthcare is tied to banking services, employment, education and a milieu of other factors. For them universal health coverage will be a long-term process and a challenge. President Duque’s decision to hand over nationality to children born in Colombia, of Venezuelan parents, and the protection status is a positive step to ensuring the integration of migrants and should allow the administration to stabilise and then reduce the costs of attempting to provide differing levels of healthcare.  

“The goal of the health sector will be to integrate 700,000 Venezuelan migrants in the next two months, which requires the participation of all sectors,” said health minister, Fernando Ruiz, during the presentation of the project “Towards the health of migrants.” 

A political analyst and specialist on migratory issues in Colombia explained, “Extending healthcare coverage could exacerbate xenophobia towards Venezuelans. There is a perception among some Colombians that migrants are stretching health resources adding to waiting lists and that they are being prioritised in place of Colombians.”

“There is a perception among some Colombians that [Venezuelan] migrants are stretching health resources adding to waiting lists and that they are being prioritised in place of Colombians.”

A political analyst and specialist on migratory issues

Extending healthcare coverage is necessary given the sheer number of migrants in Colombia and allows a government perceived as out of touch to show its human face. As our sources state however, there will be opposition from hard-up Colombians displeased at sharing resources with uninvited guests.  

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