Throughout history, Colombia has positioned itself as one of the nations with the highest number of people living abroad; which is associated with the violence that the country has faced for a long time. However, for the last five years or so this has been one of the favorite immigrant receiving territories. Would you like to know the reason for the new trend? Read on.
The Colombian government never imagined that after having one of the highest rates of emigrated citizens in the world, it now receives multiple requests for asylum. And the most amazing thing is that, a large percentage of these people come from Venezuela; being the country in question, the main escape route for many Santander citizens a couple of decades ago. The reasons for the movement are logical: these are border nations.
Venezuelans with fewer resources, in order to flee the country, seek to reach Colombia’s borders in any way possible. The number of immigrants received, to date, is 1.7 million people. But, once these people are there, the challenge of reaching refugee status begins, which is only achieved by 43% of the group. Find out below what are the steps to obtain international protection in the coffee-growing country.
First considerations to request protection in Colombia
When international assistance is required, the first aspect that is essential to know includes the entities and laws that govern the process. In the case of Colombia, these are:
Advisory Commission for the Determination of Refugee Status (CONARE). This is the body that works together with the Internal Working Group (GIT) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MRE) to process asylum requests. In other words, they are in charge of conducting the interviews, analyzing the documents, examining the evidence and responding to the requirements to request asylum.
Decree 1067. In force since 2015, this is the legal office that establishes, in each of its articles, the procedures, duties and obligations of those who process or are in refugee status. Therefore, any legal doubts you may have can be consulted with them through the following email: email@example.com, without cost; although, you must bear in mind that there are defined service points for each municipality in Colombia. Find the address and contact options by clicking here.
If you have arrived in Colombia and your economic resources are scarce, you also have the benefit of turning to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The purpose of this agency is to protect the integrity of refugees and asylum seekers who are seeking international protection.
However, the way to start the asylum process in Colombia will depend on where you are. Let’s see what to do in each case:
- Borders, ports or airports. Go to the Colombian Migration (MC) offices and explain the reasons why you want to be recognized as a refugee. The officials will send the information to the MRE and will give you entry to the territory with a safe-conduct, valid for 5 business days. Before the expiration, formalize the request, in the next section we will explain how to do it. click here for MC contact information.
- within the territory. Make the refugee request, within a maximum period of 60 days from when you entered the country, before the offices of the MC or the MRE. The requirements will be indicated below.
Procedure for processing a request for asylum in Colombia
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, those seeking asylum in Colombia have two options to initiate the process. The first is to visit, in person, the MC offices and the second is to do it virtually. In the latter case, you send the required documents to the MRE emails: firstname.lastname@example.org Y email@example.com.
The established requirements are the following:
- Handwritten explanatory letter. At the top, the applicant’s identification data and that of his/her children (if applicable), date and method of entry to Colombia, current address of residence in the country, e-mail and contact number. Then, a complete account of the events that prompted the flight from the country of origin is provided. Finally, the signature and authorization to receive notifications by digital means are included.
- Identity document. This can be the original and photocopy of the passport or identity card of the country of origin. If you do not have them, you must make a sworn statement (DJ) about your personal data.
- Evidence (official or not). Any material that supports the story narrated in the explanatory letter, in case they exist.
- Updated photograph. It will be part of the file; it must be in color, blue background and 3×4 cm2 in size. In case the requirements are sent by e-mail, a digital shot will be sufficient.
Upon submission of the requirements, the MRE will make a first analysis, and depending on this, the next steps will be indicated. Please note that, if in the explanatory letter you do not authorize to receive email notifications, then the MC office will become your second home. And, you will need to check in every business day to see how the refugee claim evaluation is progressing.
In a positive scenario, the next steps are:
Step 1. Delivery of safe conduct
Once the request is admitted, the MRE will authorize the issuance of a safe-conduct with a validity period of 3 months. The claim is made at the Special Administrative Unit of Migration Colombia, presenting an identification document: passport or identity card
The safe-conduct can be extended as many times as necessary, until CONARE and its team give a response to the refugee status. It is essential to consider that it is not an identification document, nor a free transit or work permit. In order to leave or move within Colombia, it is necessary to request authorization from the MRE.
The renewal of safe conduct is executed through the following email: safe firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no need to wait for the previous one to expire; rather, it can be processed in a maximum period of 5 days before expiration.
Step 2. Personal interview
At a random time, you will receive a notification from the GIT and CONARE for a face-to-face interview at the office where the procedure was initiated. During the interview, the officials will look for more evidence and testimonies to evaluate the recognition of the refugee status. Failure to attend the scheduled appointment will dismiss the case, since it is considered as a manifestation of little interest. You will receive a certificate of non-appearance, which you will not be able to revoke under any excuse.
If the language you speak is different from Spanish, you will have access to a free interpreter. You can also choose the sex of the person with whom you will speak. This applies to all the interviews you are notified of (there is no specific number).
Step 3. Procedure response
The estimated time for a response is not fixed, as it is not established in Decree 1067. Let’s see what you can do depending on the resolution you are granted:
- Recognition of refugee status. When you have international protection, the MRE will issue a travel document, a visa and a foreigner’s identity card. These will be the only documents with which you will be able to leave and enter Colombian territory.
- Rejection. You can resort to legal assistance to appeal the case, using an appeal for reconsideration. The time to initiate the process is 10 days, once you have been notified of the denial of refugee status.
Work during refugee claim in Colombia
As mentioned above, the safe-conduct (SC-2) issued by the Special Administrative Unit of Migration Colombia is not an endorsement to work in the territory. However, the right to regular employment is established for those who are in refugee proceedings.
Although it seems contradictory, the fact is attributed to the fact that the Ministry of Labor indicates that the contracts must be made with a visa, foreigner’s identity card or Special Permit of Permanence (PEP). But there is no problem, because with the SC-2 you can resort to the first option indicated.
The work visa required is type M (Migrant), which you will have to apply for online at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; to do so, click here. On the web you will have to fill out a form with identification data, passport images, proof of regular entry to the country or the safe-conduct of refuge and employer information.
The maximum turn around time for obtaining a visa is usually 5 business days; at that time, you will be notified that you have an appointment for a face-to-face asylum application to be granted. For refugees, the wait is short, about one business week, with no associated costs. However, please note that you will have to go to a consulate office to have your identity card stamped.
Who can apply for refuge in Colombia?
In Colombia, the people who can opt to be protected as a refugee are:
- Those who have left their native country due to suffering discriminatory persecution. Some causes are: racism, violation of religious or sexual beliefs, being singled out for political ideologies or for belonging to a certain social group.
- Individuals who fear for their safety and integrity, associated with events of violence in the nation of origin. Conflicts of their country with other nations; being this the clause by which most Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia are governed.
- Citizens persecuted for crimes, usually political, but for whom torture or cruel punishment awaits.
- Orphaned children and adolescents without legal representatives. In this case, the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF) should be contacted.
Rights and duties as an asylum seeker
CONARE and UNHCR, hand in hand with Colombian organizations, work to establish the duties and rights of who apply for refuge and of those who have already taken refuge. The purpose of this work is to achieve a maximum social integration that contributes to the growth of the country. Here is a summary of what has been defined:
|Not be extradited or returned to the country of origin, pending a resolution of the case. What applies to those who are already within the territory and for those who make the request at the border.
|Respect the laws of the country.
|Access to public education.
|Respect the people around you, as well as the officials assigned to the case online.
|Access to public health and affiliation to private insurance.
|Inform and renew the safe-conduct before its expiration.
|Work visa application.
|Request authorization to leave your locality in Colombia or travel abroad.
|Family reunification, once the refuge has been recognized.
Undoubtedly, Colombia has shown an excellent adaptation to the massive movement of people, especially Venezuelans. Its reception system is avant-garde, which has caused many countries to collaborate with supplies and money to assist people requesting help in the territory.
At first, with the case of Venezuelans, xenophobia reigned in the Colombian streets; however, as low-income people have been relocated, coexistence has improved. In summary, if you are at risk in your country, do not hesitate to go to Colombia to apply for international protection. The process is slow, but it offers essential benefits to grow as a person and as a professional.