Migrations and the Andean borders in time of Covid-19

Updated: Feb 2

by Carmen Forlenza

1. Introduction

Before pandemics, thousands of people were used to live as street vendors, domestic workers, or other precarious jobs in South America. Amid lockdown periods, firstly adopted at a national level, then at a regional one, (based on weekly updated risk maps), it suddenly became impossible for them, to pay for rent, food, and an internet connection, essential for family children’ remote learning.

People living in a country other than the native one, with a more or less recent migration experience, are among the groups more affected by Covid. Even before the pandemic, lots of foreign workers were living in conditions of vulnerability, on the verge of poverty.

The so-called “irregular” migrants are the last of the last. Those without official migratory documents in the host country are put into this category. For this reason, they are excluded from the healthcare system and from the economic support measures, adopted by the various governments to face the epidemic.

The epidemic has forced several expatriates to move again, to return to their homeland, or join family members in another country. However, they found borders barred by national governments, to contain the spread of Covid-19.

People in transit have specific protection needs. Non-recognition of them has intensified dangerous border crossings (due to extreme environmental and climatic conditions, or the presence of armed groups), physical violence by the police at the border, trafficking in persons, and violation of rights in border quarantine centers or areas of first arrival.

Examples of these new crises are three Andean borders: the first between Colombia and Venezuela, the second between Peru and Brazil, and the last one between Bolivia and Chile. The Andean countries[1] indeed have so far proved unable to manage these huge flows of people, often families with children, by letting national security issues prevail.

Figure 1: Art. 14 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (standup4humanrights.org)

2. Retornados between Colombia and Venezuela

In Colombia, with the outbreak of the pandemic and following quarantine, thousands of Venezuelans lost both their livelihood activity and the house. Who made a living with street trade before Covid, was in most cases evicted by the owners of the “arriendos paga diario[2]. This happened despite official measures against eviction during the state of emergency[3].

Many have thus decided to cross back the border between Colombia and Venezuela. Due to the closu