Colombia grants Venezuelan migrants legal status

Colombia will give temporary protective legal status to Venezuelan migrants, allowing them to work there legally.

It's the most important humanitarian gesture in the region for decades, according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and an "extraordinary display of humanity."

Colombia has been the top destination for those fleeing economic and social collapse in neighboring Venezuela.

Nearly a million of those migrants don't currently have papers, and the influx has strained Colombia's fragile public health and education systems.

Coronavirus has made the migrants' plight worse, by closing down what economic opportunities there are, and tens of thousands returned home in desperation last year.

Migrant Renny Mendez says he's in dire need of work.

"Because of a lack of documents, being here illegally, we are not taken into account when it comes to work and things like that. And one comes here, at least - I have come here - for work and if I am given an opportunity it would be a great help. Thanks to God and the president for giving us this opportunity."

President Ivan Duque called the change a milestone, not just in Colombia but across Latin America.

The new status will last ten years, and free those already legalized from regularly having to reapply for papers.

Video Transcript

- Colombia will give temporary protective legal status to Venezuelan migrants, allowing them to work there legally. It's the most important humanitarian gesture in the region for decades, according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and, quote, "an extraordinary display of humanity."

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Colombia has been the top destination for those fleeing economic and social collapse in neighboring Venezuela. Nearly a million of those migrants don't currently have papers. And the influx has strained Colombia's fragile public health and education systems. Coronavirus has made the migrants' plight worse by closing down what economic opportunities there are. And tens of thousands returned home in desperation last year. Migrant Renny Mendez says he's in dire need of work.

INTERPRETER: Because of a lack of documents, being here illegally, we are not taken into account when it comes to work and things like that. And one comes here, at least I have come here, for work. And if I'm given an opportunity, it would be a great help. Thanks to God and the president giving us this opportunity.

- President Ivan Duque called the change a milestone, not just in Colombia but across Latin America. The new status will last 10 years, and free those already legalized from regularly having to reapply for papers.