WACC– Months-long Covid-19 lockdowns in Colombia have resulted in “an increase in xenophobia and rejection of the migrant,” according to WACC Global partners who are providing Venezuelan migrants and host communities with access to relevant information and communication platforms.
It is crucial now more than ever, to raise awareness about the plight of migrants and to provide them with a venue to relate their experiences and concerns, they said.
The closure of transport terminals and borders have “increased clandestine migration and the risk of human trafficking, the immobilization of migrants in transit who have nowhere to stay, and paralysis of border economies on which hundreds of thousands of people depend,” said a report sent to WACC by Grupo COMUNICARTE, Comunicación Positiva and the Fe Y Alegreria Venezuela Radio Institute (IRFA). WACC and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), have provided support for these local NGOs in setting up Entre Parceros y Panas, a network of 22 citizen reporters from 22 radio stations on both sides of the border between Colombia and Venezuela, as well as in Bogotá.
Testimonies collected by citizen reporters have shown that Venezuelan migrants who were able to return to their home country during the pandemic are also being stigmatized and accused of bringing the virus with them. “New cases of piracy and trafficking of all kinds have also emerged, making the migrant trails a magnet for crime and violence,” said the report. The precarious living conditions of women and girls have also made them more vulnerable to sexual and labour exploitation by criminals, it added.
Colombia itself is reeling from the socio-economic and political impact of the coronavirus pandemic. “What is worrying about this situation is the deepening of recurring problems in the country, which in recent years had been falling: increase in domestic violence, child violence, labor exploitation, malnutrition and other eating disorders, unemployment rate, to name a few,” said the report.
“The greatest fear is the collapse of the health system,” it added, noting that it remains unclear just how many have been infected by the virus.
“Irregular migrants avoid going to health centers [when they experience symptoms of the virus] for fear of deportation,” said the report. “Domestic confinement measures are difficult to practice for migrants without fixed housing or who are living in crowded conditions.”
Migrants, many of whom work in the informal labour market, are suffering from food insecurity, the report added.
Some migrants have been risking their health by working as rappitenderos (couriers who deliver takeout meals, groceries, and other services). “The darkness and silence of the streets of the main cities of the country are perfect scenarios for crime and insecurity, where formal and informal workers risk [their lives],” said the report.
Mass media have also increased “the perception of danger and hatred towards foreigners,” said the report. It underscored the need for Entre Parceros y Panas, and the work being done by educational and community media in giving voice to migrants and other marginalized sectors.
One of the greatest needs identified by migrants is constant contact with loved ones left behind. Migrants and their families “spend agonizing moments of uncertainty” about how each one is doing. “Despite the new technologies, there are still extensive areas of Colombia that do not have any telecommunication coverage, so the tension increases,” said the report. “Of course, there is also the need to speak and be heard,” and there are stories that need to be told, “about smells or landscapes that take them to some memory where everything was better…”
By giving voice to the stories, hopes and dreams of migrants, citizen journalists help others to see them, and help to promote “reflection and solidarity, in addition to providing a ray of light to a path that seems to have no end,” said the report.
It then becomes “an alternative migration narrative, anchored in human rights and intercultural dialogue that facilitates the integration of migrants and coexistence with host communities,” it said. “The central objective will always be to generate democratic communication processes that questions, mobilizes and leads to a change in the social practice of the communities and social organizations of Colombia and Latin America.”