Beyond Borders- The story of Venezuelan migrant children in Colombia
When 13-year-old Mayré arrived in Colombia in search of a better future with her family, the first barrier she encountered was the dialect.
She came from the center of Venezuela and settled in one of the municipalities that make up the Catatumbo region in the department of Norte de Santander on the Colombian- Venezuelan border. When she went to the store to buy a “refresco” (soda), the shopkeeper made a face when he heard her. “Here’s your gaseosa” (pop) – he replied with a laugh.
According to the most recent reports from the Migración Colombia (the Colombian Migration Department), in December 2020 there were more than 1,729,000 Venezuelan migrants in Colombia.
58% of Venezuelans living in Colombia are young people between 18 and 39 years of age and more than 28% are under 18. Poverty, inequality, work, educational, health and housing conditions are some of the greatest challenges migrants face, and since the start of COVID-19 these difficulties have been exacerbated as access to services has become more difficult for migrant populations.
Although Mayré worried that adapting to a new region with different dialects and customs would be a great challenge, she was able to do it without much difficulty thanks to the help of her neighbors and friends. Not long after arriving, Mayré managed to enroll in school with ease because she had the Special Permanence Permit (PEP) required by the Colombian government.
Meanwhile, in La Guajira, the northernmost department of the country, 14-year-old Rosbely had resigned herself to losing the school year. Due to her status as an irregular migrant, she did not have a PEP and could not find a local school willing to enroll her.
“My mom fought hard to get us into school. I remember that every day she tried to find us a school, but none would take us for being Venezuelan, this made me feel pretty bad, also in the neighborhood they bullied me because of my nationality”, Rosbely told us.
Antony and his family also live in La Guajira. At 14 years-old, he has had to go through everything that being a migrant child brings: leaving his family, friends, lifestyle, school, and home behind. Antony hopes that host communities will not judge migrants or discriminate against them because they have a lot to contribute to Colombia.
“I have not studied for two years and that sometimes gets me down, but it also makes me stronger, because I know I have to study to fulfill my dream of being a forensic doctor,” he said.
Lack of documentation, such as passports, Special Permanence Permits (PEP), and school certificates, is one of the biggest obstacles preventing young Venezuelan migrants from accessing the Colombian educational system.
Since arriving in Colombia, 13-year-old cousins Ema and Yeiner have not been able to enroll in school. Instead, they meet every day to study together – transcribing books, reading, and drawing.
“We came from our country because the situation there was difficult, there was no food at all. The hardest thing about coming here was not being able to study because my mother had no money to buy the supplies and uniforms”, said Ema.
“I really miss being able to study. Every now and then I help my younger brother with his homework. Although I like to help him, I feel bad about not being able to go to class. My neighbors are studying, while I’m at home.”
Save the Children’s Beyond Borders: El Mundo es mi Hogar project supports the needs of migrant children in Colombia. In collaboration with governments and organizations, it works to guarantee a safe, quality, and gender-sensitive education for girls and boys affected by the migratory crisis and violence in border areas. The project also provides community centers to support the well-being, skills development, and transition to the educational system of girls, boys and adolescents.
Save the Children also acknowledges and supports Colombia’s new measure – the Temporary Statute of Protection for Venezuelan migrants – which will allow the permanent social and economic integration of more than 1,800,000 Venezuelan migrants. It will also enable the adoption of policies to protect, develop opportunities for, and guarantee the rights of migrant girls, boys, and young people.
The Colombia-Venezuela border is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Colombian immigration authority, if the border were to be re-opened, Colombia would receive more than 300,000 Venezuelan migrants in a period of less than three months. Given the current healthcare and economic situation in Venezuela, efforts to promote safe and quality educational spaces for children affected by the migration crisis, such as the Beyond Borders Project, remain absolutely essential.
Beyond Borders: El Mundo es mi Hogar is a Save the Children project focused on improving the realization of the right to quality, safe and gender-sensitive education for girls and boys affected by the conflict and the crisis on the Colombian-Venezuelan border. The project will be implemented for 31 months in the departments of Norte de Santander, Arauca and La Guajira and seeks to benefit more than 30,403 children and adolescents living in the area.