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COVID-19 opinion: The coronavirus at Colombia’s closed border

Annette Idler and Markus Hochmüller describes the implications - from the frustrating to the dire - for Venezuelans as the Colombian authorities close the seven borders between the two South American nations and the migration crisis in the area worsens. 

In an article for The Conversation Annette Idler and her co-author Markus Hochmüller have described the desperate situation on the Venezuelan-Colombian border and how the lockdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already difficult situation for Venezuelans. 

The border’s closure on March 14 due to the COVID-19 outbreak has only made a bad situation worse, our research finds. Transit across the border is now permitted essentially only for Venezuelans leaving Colombia – not the thousands still clamoring to get in to buy urgently needed food and medicine.

Placing the current predicament against Venezuela's recent history, first as one of Latin America’s most robust economies, but latterly, after oil prices fell and hyperinflation kicked in, an economic disaster, the article looks at the predicament of those moving across the border into Colombia.  With 5 million people fleeing the country - 1.8 million to Colombia alone - the migratory crisis is now in an acute state.

Idler and Hochmüller call on their research into the overlapping humanitarian and security crises in Colombia’s borderlands to describe how, before the pandemic, immigrants spent only a short period of time in Colombia before passing onto other countries or returned to Venezuela that day after buying food, medicine and other items that are hard to come by in their home nation. The article explains how unoffiicial border crossings, policed by rebels, criminals and corrupt officials have created an economy in which transitory migrants suffer. 

Our past studies on civilian behavior in such contested territory have found that Venezuelans who have only recently arrived in Colombia are particularly subject to harassment and exploitation because they don’t know the rules of the game.

The article notes that not even the black market is operating in a regular fashion. 

During the global COVID-19 pandemic the department has decided to share opinion and blog pieces written by members of the faculty, who are bringing their unique research perspectives to engage with the big questions of the day. The views expressed within opinion pieces do not represent the department’s official view, instead they shine a light on the intellectual plurality of our diverse community of academics and scholars. For example: 

Dr Annette Idler is Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Politics and International Relations and at Pembroke College; Director of Studies, Changing Character of War Programme